Feature: Experiencing hearing loss

Ilkeston reporter Sarah Bould has her hearing tested for a feature on deafness, Sarah is pictured with Raj Somal, director of hearing care at Specsavers Ilkeston
Ilkeston reporter Sarah Bould has her hearing tested for a feature on deafness, Sarah is pictured with Raj Somal, director of hearing care at Specsavers Ilkeston

As someone who, when having a conversation, often finds myself saying ‘sorry?’, ‘pardon?’ or ‘you what love?’, I thought it would be a good idea to get my hearing tested at some point.

By chance I was invited for a free hearing test by Specsavers, which offers the service in its Ilkeston store. I was to also experience what it’s like to have hearing loss. This would be done by ‘blocking’ my ears up with foam moulds, normally used to measure up for hearing aids.

Raj Somal is director of hearing care at the store. She conducts the test in an audiology room which is complete with a sound proof booth. First she uses a magnified light to look into my ears, and afterwards tells me I have ‘lovely ears’.

Raj has a post graduate degree in audiology so I am inclined to believe her when she tells me that you should never put anything smaller than your elbow into your ears, and poking cotton buds in your ear could perforate your ear drum. The strangest thing she has ever found in someone’s ear is paper.

For the hearing test I sit in a booth with headphones on and press a buzzer when I can hear a whistle or a beep. The results are then analysed on a laptop, which, luckily, shows my hearing is fine. One line on the graphs represents base and volume, the other, clarity. Clarity relates to softer sounds such as the voices of women and children. Someone who experiences hearing loss can normally be related to a loss of clarity.

Raj tells me of one instance where a man stopped going to his local pub when they ripped the carpet out. She said: “Carpets absorb sound (bass) so if they are taken away it can make it harder for someone with hearing loss. A tiled floor makes a spectacular difference for someone with hearing loss.

“For hearing nerve loss, if someone is in a shop and a shop assistant speaks louder to them because they didn’t hear what they said it won’t make a difference because it’s clarity, not volume.”

Raj then places the ‘blockers’ in my ears. I can still hear but it’s muffled – I find that I have to be facing people to be sure I can hear what they are saying. Back at the office answering the phone is out of the question, and if someone speaks to me from across the room I can only shrug and tell them ‘I can’t hear you’.

Walking to Tesco at lunchtime a colleague observes that I am talking quietly, though – to me – it feels like I am speaking louder than I usually would.

You know when you go abroad and someone speaks to you in a language you don’t understand? it feels a bit like that. You know someone’s talking to you bit you don’t know what they’re saying.

When I took the blockers out at the end of the day it was a relief. Not being able to hear properly can be frustrating for you and those around you. It is however reassuring to know that if I ever do have a problem in the future, techniques have advanced with most hearing aids now made to fit inside the ear and out of sight. People over 55 are entitled to free hearing aids.

Raj, who loves her job and the satisfaction that comes with it, said: “To be able to give people the ability to hear back means a lot.”

For more information on free hearing tests call the store on 0115 9441401. You can also visit specsavers.co.uk/hearing.