What is bilateral hearing loss?

Bilateral hearing loss, or BHL, refers to the permanent loss of hearing in both ears. Caused by several factors, bilateral hearing loss can be categorised due to the degree of hearing loss. The condition normally occurs as a result of damage to stereocilia - hair-like cells in the inner ear - or to the auditory nerve itself.

Bilateral hearing loss symptoms

While bilateral hearing loss generally occurs over time, it can also happen suddenly due to exposure to loud noises. It’s important to remember that not all bilateral hearing loss cases are the same. For example, cases can be symmetrical, where the hearing loss is the same in both ears, or asymmetrical, where the loss is more unbalanced, and you can hear better in one ear than the other.

When we talk about hearing loss, there are certain degrees to categorise the severity and how much sound is lost. These are generally described as:

  • Mild: you may hear some speech, but it will be hard hearing softer sounds or speech from a distance

  • Moderate: you might have trouble hearing faint speech, and will have difficulty when having a conversation at a normal level

  • Severe: you’ll likely hear no speech at all when having a conversation at a normal level and will miss some loud sounds

  • Profound: if you’re suffering with profound hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear normal or loud speech, and will have difficulty with loud sounds, unless they’re very loud

It’s also important to note the type of hearing loss - conductive hearing loss occurs when sound conduction is impeded through the external ear, the middle ear, or both. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem within the cochlea or the neural pathway to the auditory cortex.

While symptoms of bilateral hearing loss will change depending on the severity of your case, common signs to look out for include:

  • Muffled speech or sound

  • Difficulty hearing speech, especially in busy environments

  • Problems hearing children and women’s voices

  • Tinnitus (ringing in your ears)

Bilateral hearing loss causes

There is a range of reasons why BHL can occur, with the most common causes including:

  • Exposure to loud noises

  • Age-related

  • Trauma

  • Infections

  • Tumours

  • Inner ear disorders like Ménière's disease

  • Congenital or hereditary factors

Bilateral hearing loss treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for bilateral hearing loss, however, there are a range of treatment options, depending on the cause and the severity of the case. 

Hearing aids

For most cases of bilateral hearing loss, a hearing aid will be fitted to each ear to improve hearing and minimise any difficulties that can arise when you are suffering from hearing loss. A hearing aid simply amplifies the sound around you, directing it straight into your eardrum, ensuring you hear sounds more clearly.

From an improved ability to hear conversations in varied environments to increased confidence and connection - there are a number of benefits to hearing aids. 

With a wide range of hearing aids available, at Boots Hearingcare, we’ll help you to find the perfect fit. 

Auditory implants

For more extreme cases, or if you’ve been suffering from profound hearing loss from birth, cochlear implants are a great choice. An electronic device that is surgically inserted into the inner ear, cochlear implants are a popular solution and work by replacing the damaged nerves used to send electrical signals to the brain.

Living with bilateral hearing loss

From fewer job opportunities to social withdrawal, mental health and self-esteem issues to overall communication problems, there’s no doubt that living with hearing loss can be difficult. But, there are a number of things you can do to help improve your daily life and communication:

  • Tell people about your hearing loss: simply explaining your hearing loss, and asking people to get your attention and speak clearly to you, face to face, can go a long way towards helping you feel included in conversations

  • Being honest: while this can be scary for a lot of people with hearing issues, if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions about what you may have missed while asking people to repeat sentences or use pen and paper when you’re unsure 

  • Lip-reading classes: there are a range of classes available to help improve lip-reading skills, and increase your confidence in social situations

It’s important to remember that every cause of BHL is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Being open and honest about your hearing issues and what those around you can do to help is important.

Frequently asked questions

Is bilateral hearing loss a disability?

If you suffer from bilateral hearing loss, you might not think of yourself as disabled. But, if you have severe or profound hearing loss, depending on the degree of damage, you may be eligible to apply for disability benefits and grants to help with everyday life. From specialist technologies and assistive devices to in-person support, there are several options available to help you better communicate. 

For more information, or to find out what you might be eligible for, visit the RNID website now.
What causes hearing loss in both ears?
Hearing loss in both ears can occur at any time, to anyone. From exposure to loud noise to ageing, there are a number of reasons why you might lose your hearing in both ears.

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