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Deafness is when someone can’t hear properly. It may also be called hearing loss or hearing impairment.

What is it like for siblings if their brother or sister is deaf?

Siblings can often have really good relationships with their brothers and sisters who are deaf. They might have learnt things like sign language or Makaton. However, siblings may sometimes find it difficult to communicate with their brothers and sisters. This can cause arguments. Siblings may also feel left out when their brothers and sisters communicate with other people using sign language, if they can’t use it too. Siblings might have to help their brothers and sisters when they’re outside, as they can’t hear traffic. Siblings can also feel upset that they can’t play with their brothers and sisters in the same way that other people play with theirs. They may feel left out as their parent has to spend lots of extra time with their deaf brother or sister.

What causes deafness?

Deafness happens when one or more parts of the ear aren’t working properly. Some people are born with hearing loss. This may be because one of their parents is deaf, but it can just happen. Other people can become deaf after an accident or an illness. Spending a lot of time listening to loud noises can also damage hearing. People who use loud machines should always use ear plugs. If people listen to a lot of very loud music (especially headphones turned too loud) this could cause deafness in later life.

Deafness can be described as mild, moderate, severe or profound. Deafness can also be described as unilateral, which means one-sided, or bilateral which means two-sided. This tells you whether it is just one ear, or both ears, which are affected.

What does it mean?

You can’t see if someone is deaf by looking at them. Even with a hearing aid, people may find it hard to hear when there are lots of other noises around so it may be very hard when there are lots of people together. People who are born deaf, or go deaf before learning to talk, find it very hard to learn to talk. They don’t hear sounds to copy, and don’t hear the noises they make themselves. So they have a problem learning words, and also how to make sentences.

There are 3 main types of hearing loss. The first one is conductive hearing loss. This means there is a problem with the outer or middle ear. This can often be treated. The next one is sensory hearing loss. This means the inner ear is not working properly. This is much harder for doctors to put right. Finally, there is neural hearing loss. This means the nerve from the inner ear to the brain is damaged. This is quite rare, but very difficult to treat.

What treatment is there?

There are different types of treatment for different types of deafness:

  • Syringing   earwax is important to keep dirt and germs out of your ear. But if there is too much, or it gets hard, it can stop you hearing. If this problem goes on for a long time, a doctor uses a medicine to make earwax runny, and then uses a syringe to wash it out. This should cure the problem completely
  • Grommets – if there is lots of liquid in the middle ear causing deafness, doctors may put a tiny tube, called a grommet, through the eardrum to let it drain out. After a while this can be taken out again, and the eardrum mends itself
  • Operations – sometimes used if there are damaged bones in the middle ear

Lots of deaf people will use a hearing aid. People with a severe or profound hearing loss may be given a cochlear implant. This turns sounds into electric currents and sends them straight to the hearing nerve. This is only used when a hearing aid is not helping. Many people with hearing loss learn to lip read. This means watching the shape your lips make to work out what word you are saying. Other people learn sign language; Makaton is a simple one with only a few words, British Sign Language (BSL) is harder to learn but lets you say everything.

Deaf people who use sign language need an interpreter (someone to listen for them and translate other people’s words into sign language.)They may also need the interpreter to watch their signs and speak for them. Special telephones called text phones can turn words into writing on a screen, so they can use the phone. TV programmes and films often have subtitles so deaf people can watch them.