Hearing and ear care

Discover more about some of the common types of hearing difficulty and deafness. Find out about having a hearing test and communicating if you are deaf or hard of hearing.

Hearing difficulty

If you have hearing loss, your hearing will have been affected by a disease, disorder or injury.

Earwax and ear infections

You might find, even if you experience sudden deafness, that you only have a build-up of wax in your ear or an infection. Both of these can be treated by your doctor.

Hearing loss problems

If you are having hearing loss problems you may require a hearing aid. If this is the case, you should speak with your doctor - even if you are thinking of buying a hearing aid privately.


Tinnitus is the medical term for any noise that people hear in one ear, both ears or in their head. Some people sometimes complain of hearing a ringing sound or even buzzing, humming or whistling.

It is not a disease nor is it life-threatening. It is quite common and can occur at any age with one third of all adults reporting some tinnitus.


Over 200,000 people in Northern Ireland, or about one in seven of the population, are deaf or hard of hearing.

Levels of deafness or hearing loss can range from mild deafness, where people may have difficulty following speech in noisy situations, to profound deafness, where people often use sign language as their preferred means of communication.

You can be born with a level of deafness or it can develop in adulthood. Ninety per cent of profoundly deaf children are born to hearing parents.

Loud noise, for example loud music, is the most common cause of deafness that isn't congenital (from birth).

Communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people

There are a range of ways in which deaf and hard of hearing people communicate, including:

  • hearing aids and induction loop systems to improve sound
  • lip reading skills
  • through sign language

British and Irish Sign Languages are both commonly used in Northern Ireland, and are recognised as languages by the Government. Between 3,500 and 5,000 people here use sign language as their first or preferred language.

Having a hearing test

If you haven't had your hearing tested before and you are finding it difficult to hear conversations in noisy environments, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. You may be referred for a hearing test either at your local audiology department or ear, nose and throat (ENT) clinic

Your doctor (or health visitor for babies) will refer you either direct to the audiology department or to a consultant who will then refer you to an audiologist.

An audiologist may advise you to use a hearing aid and will arrange for one to be supplied, if you feel it would be helpful.

Where to get information and advice

There are a range of charities and organisations that offer advice, information and services for deaf and hard of hearing people and to the general public.

Below is a list of some of those charities and organisations.

More useful links

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