Hearing tests are carried out regularly during childhood to identify any problems as soon as possible. Adults can also ask their GP for a hearing test.
In the past, many children born with hearing loss were not diagnosed until they were 18 months or older. But identifying hearing loss late can have a negative impact on a child's language development, social skills and self-confidence.
If hearing problems are diagnosed early, appropriate support can be provided for the child and their family.
It's also important to identify hearing loss in adults early, as treatment is more likely to be effective the earlier problems are diagnosed.
Newborn hearing screening
All newborn babies are offered a hearing test as part of the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (NHSP).
This test is carried out in the first few weeks following birth. It will either take place in the hospital maternity unit or in your home.
Read more about the newborn hearing test.
Sometimes, premature babies pass this test but are still felt to be in a high-risk group for hearing loss. In these cases another hearing test is recommended for when they are between six and eight months old.
Later childhood tests
There will also be further opportunities to check your child’s hearing as they get older. For example:
- a child may have their hearing checked as part of their general review when they are about two-and-a-half years old
- all children have a hearing test when they are between four and five years old before they start school
- your GP can arrange for your child to have a hearing test at any age if you feel that their hearing is not right (see below)
The age at which routine tests or assessments are carried out may vary between different areas. Your GP or health visitor should be able to advise you.
Reporting problems to your GP
If you think your child may have a hearing problem, take them to see your GP as soon as possible. Hearing tests can be used at any time to help diagnose or rule out other health conditions. In some cases, hearing loss may be the cause of delayed speech and language development.
Many children who experience hearing problems turn out to have a common and temporary condition called glue ear, in which mucus blocks the ear.
Less commonly, other explanations for a child apparently having hearing difficulties include behavioural problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Adult hearing tests
Adults can also request a hearing test from their GP if they are concerned about their hearing.
Hearing loss in old age is a common and usually gradual process. It often begins with difficulty hearing other people clearly, particularly when there is a lot of background noise. At first you may not realise you have a hearing impairment and other members of your family may be the first ones to notice.
However, there are other reasons why adults might lose their hearing, such as ear infections, ear disease or prolonged exposure to excessive noise.
You should visit your GP if you experience hearing loss in one or both ears, or if you have:
- tinnitus – ringing or buzzing in your ears
- vertigo – dizziness or loss of balance
- severe ear pain that lasts for more than 24 hours
- discharge – fluid or blood coming out of the ear
You may also need to have a hearing test if you have a head injury, because it could damage your inner ear or your hearing bones.
Older people with permanent hearing loss may benefit from having a hearing aid. If you have a hearing aid fitted, you will receive advice and support from your local audiology department, including advice about changing the battery, repairs and upgrades.
You are more likely to benefit from a hearing aid if your hearing loss is diagnosed early. Ask your GP to arrange a test if you are at all concerned about your hearing.