top of page

Expert Advice: Do You Hear Me?

Have you ever thought about the soundscape of your life and how it may be affecting your health and wellbeing?

Most of us wake up every day to the auditory assault of our alarm, only to spend the rest of our waking hours bombarded by a myriad of different, often discordant noises. Yet while our brain’s filtering systems means many of these don’t reach our consciousness, this does not mean they are inert.

Why is hearing important?

Sound provides our brains with vital clues about our environment, warning us of potential dangers. Our ancestors would be much more likely to be eaten by an approaching predator if they could not hear it and the growl of a motor engine has, for decades, forewarned of the approach of an oncoming vehicle. Indeed one of the downsides of the E-vehicle revolution is the predicted 40% greater risk of collision with pedestrians and cyclists as a result of their stealthily quiet approach.

What are the other effects of sound?

Mood can be significantly affected by our sonic environment; music being the most obvious example. Listening to our favourite songs stimulates the reward centres in our brains, lifting our mood instantly or helping us to find the motivation to venture out on a cold, dark winter morning when that New Year’s Resolution willpower is running low. It’s also great for reducing acute stress – I like to have a soothing soundtrack playing in my operating theatre to help patients relax during their procedures.

However diverse our musical tastes might be, it seems that the sounds of nature have a universally beneficial effect on our minds and bodies, whether we’re listening to birdsong whilst out on a walk or having Alexa streaming recordings of rain or whale song into our bedrooms to help us to sleep.

Can sound be harmful?

Our 21st-century soundscapes bear very little resemblance to that of our ancestors. For most people living in industrialised countries, the sounds in which we are immersed are largely man-made; road traffic, household appliances, computers, phones etc. Those working in heavy industry may be at risk of hearing impairment due to dangerous levels of noise exposure but even white collar workers may suffer adverse effects from the lower levels of environmental noise pollution in office environments, for example. Chaotic sonic environments can impact negatively workers’ productivity, mood and wellbeing.

So it’s important to limit the negative impact of noise, where possible. This may involve wearing ear defenders if levels are potentially harmful. Employers have a legal obligation to provide their staff with appropriate protective equipment if they are at risk. For those trying to work in open plan offices, wearing noise-excluding headphones which allow communication (e.g. during online meetings) can significantly lower stress levels and improve concentration and productivity. If this is not practical, try whenever you can to remove yourself to somewhere quiet or if you have access to some green space close to your work, consider an outdoor walk during your lunch break. The sounds of nature will have a calming effect.

Hearing impairment

Whilst many of us are experiencing noise overload, 47 million people worldwide are experiencing hearing impairment, according to a report in 2017 in the Lancet. For those affected there is an increased risk of accidents, difficulties with interpersonal communication, occupational limitations, mental health problems and even memory deficit. It is even thought to be responsible for dementia in up to 9% of those living with this condition.

What causes hearing impairment?

  • Congenital: Damage to the auditory system can occur before birth, due to infection of the mum-to-be with viruses such as Rubella, which is why vaccination is so important. There are also a number of inherited conditions where genetic abnormalities result in deafness from birth. In these cases, there may be a family history.

  • Wax build-up: Painless hearing loss developing over days or weeks; the ear may feel itchy and “blocked”.

  • Eardrum perforation: Sudden onset often painful hearing loss in the affected ear. This can be caused by infection, very loud noise or a rapid change in air pressure.

  • Drugs: Toxicity to the sensory nerves can result from an overdose of drugs such as the antibiotic, gentamicin.

  • Age-related: Gradual and progressive. Chronic exposure to loud noise can accelerate this process, which is why ear-defenders are so important for those at occupational risk.

  • Meniere’s Disease: This condition is characterised by episodes of hearing impairment in combination with tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and vertigo (the sensation of the room spinning). The cause is not known but is thought to be the result of both genetic and environmental factors.

Where hearing impairment is slow and insidious, we may not be aware for some time that there is a problem and for some, the stigma may lead to denial of the problem. Needing to have the television or radio volume on a very high setting may be a useful clue and there may be particular difficulties following conversations in noisy environments.

If you suspect you may be developing problems with hearing, it is always worth investigating. A simple solution such as ear micro-suction may solve the problem but if you should require a device, the good news is that hearing aid technology has evolved significantly in recent years. Effective options are now available which are effective, comfortable and discreet.


Hidden Hearing is now at Dr Julia Sen Health & Wellness Clinic, 52 Barbourne Road, Worcester. WR1 1JA.

To find out more about hearing loss or to book an appointment, go to , email or call 0808 258 5799.


bottom of page