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      Glossary

      We know people are more comfortable with some words than others when describing their own deafness or hearing loss. It's not a definitive list - please suggest any words or phrases you think are important: webteam@hearingloss.org.uk.

      A-C

      • Acute otitis media

        Acute otitis media (glue ear) is a short-term ear infection that often comes on suddenly. Symptoms are a build-up of fluid in the middle ear, which can get infected.

      • Adaptive directionality

        Digital hearing aids have systems (directional microphones and noise reduction) that detect if you are in a quiet or noisy environment and the source of sound. The hearing aid adjusts its settings to optimise performance.

      • Aminoglycoside antibiotics

         Aminoglycoside is the name given to a group of antibiotic drugs that are most likely to cause hearing loss. These include gentamycin, streptomycin and neomycin. Aminoglycoside antibiotics are usually only used to treat life threatening bacterial infections, such as tuberculosis.

      • Analogue hearing aids

        Analogue hearing aids have a microphone that picks up sound and converts the sound into small electrical signals. These electrical signals are then amplified (made louder) and fed into an earphone on the hearing aid so you can hear them. They have largely been replaced by digital hearing aids.

      • Audiogram

        An audiogram is a chart that represents a person's hearing ability, determined by a hearing test. Audiologists use audiograms to help judge whether a person has a hearing loss and what type of help they need.

      • Audiologist

        Audiologists specialise in identifying and assessing hearing and balance problems. They recommend and provide appropriate support, products and treatments to help alleviate the effects of hearing loss.

        Audiologists work both privately and for the NHS.

      • Auditory nerve

        The auditory nerve (also known as the cochlear or acoustic nerve) carries signals from the cochlea to the brain.

      • Auditory processing disorder

        Disorder that affects the processing of auditory information within the brain. APD is used as an umbrella for all those that are thought to affect this processing.

        Usually someone who has normal functioning outer, middle and inner ear; however they are unable to process sounds in the same way that others do. Typically someone would present with difficulties recognising and interpreting sounds, especially speech sounds.

      • Behind-the-ear hearing aids

        BTE aids have an ear mould that fits inside the ear, while the rest of the aid rests behind the ear. Some models have twin microphones, to switch between all-round sound and a more directional setting that can help focus sound in noisy places.

      • Body worn hearing aids

        Body worn hearing aids have a small box that clips to clothes or fits inside a pocket. This is connected by a lead to the earphone. Some people find the controls less fiddly than those on smaller hearing aids. Body worn aids can be very powerful.

      • Bone conduction hearing aids

        Bone conduction hearing aids are for people with conductive hearing loss or people who can't wear conventional hearing aids. They deliver sound through the skull via vibrations.

      • Brain stem implants

        Brain stem implants can improve hearing in patients with neural hearing loss, which can be caused by cancer of the auditory (hearing) nerve or an auditory nerve that failed to develop properly. Implants convert sound into electrical impulses that stimulate the brain directly, bypassing the auditory nerve.

      • Channels or bands

        When sounds are processed in a digital hearing aid, the sound spectrum is split into channels or bands. The amplification in these bands can be adjusted independently to more accurately suit an individual's hearing loss.

      • Cholesteatoma

        Condition of the middle ear that generally starts with a hole in the ear drum; usually in the upper part of the drum. This can become infected and the ear drum sheds dead skin which mixes with other debris in the ear to form a mass - called a cholesteatoma.

        If left untreated this mass can grow causing damage to different parts of the ear; leading to hearing loss, tinnitus and sometimes balance problems. In very severe cases it can cause meningitis or brain infections, although this is very rare.

      • Chronic otitis media

        Chronic otitis media is an infection located in the middle ear. It can either last for a long time or be recurring. Symptoms are a build-up of fluid in the middle ear.

      • Cochlea

        The cochlea is the hearing ‘organ’ of the inner ear. It is a fluid filled chamber. When sound waves enter the cochlea from the middle ear, the fluid vibrates causing tiny sensory hair cells to pick up the movement and trigger an electrical signal in the auditory nerve. This passes signals to the brain where they are heard as sound.

      • Cochlear implants

        Cochlear implants provide a sensation of hearing to people who are severely to profoundly deaf. The implant consists of a microphone and a transmitter outside the head, which send signals to an implanted receiver under the skin. This in turn sends signals to electrodes implanted in the cochlea. When the electrodes receive a signal, tiny electric currents stimulate the auditory nerve, which carries sound from the cochlea to the brain.

      • Completely-in-the-ear-canal hearing aids

        CIC's are even smaller than ITE aids, so they are less visible. They are unlikely to be suitable if you have severe hearing loss, or frequent ear infections

      • Compression

        Hearing aids amplify weak sounds to a level that the user can hear. They also ensure that strong sounds are not amplified too much to avoid discomfort. Compression is the system that manages this, and enables a user to listen comfortably to quiet and loud sounds in quick succession without having to manually change settings.

      • Conductive deafness

        Conductive deafness is when sound cannot pass freely through the outer or middle ear. This is usually caused by a blockage in the outer or middle ear from an infection or wax build-up. Depending on the cause, conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, and can sometimes be cured with minor surgery or medication.

      • Cytomegaloviral disease

        Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is part of the herpes family of viruses. Once infected the virus is permanently carried, as no cure exists. If a woman becomes infected for the first time during pregnancy, there is a risk she may pass the infection to the unborn baby. Infection in the baby is known as congenital CMV and can cause hearing loss or deafness.

      D-F

      • Deaf

        We use the term 'people who are deaf' in a general way when we are talking about people with hearing loss, especially when it is severe or profound (unable to hear anything below 70Db).

      • Deaf community

        Many deaf people whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL) consider themselves part of the Deaf community. They may describe themselves as Deaf with a capital D to emphasise their Deaf identity.

      • Deafblind

        The term deafblindness covers people who have some hearing and vision as well people who are totally deaf and totally blind.

      • Deafened

        This refers to people who were born hearing and became severely or profoundly deaf after learning to speak. This can happen suddenly or gradually. It is also known as acquired profound hearing loss.

      • Digital hearing aid

        Digital hearing aids take signals from the microphone and convert this into a code. The code is manipulated by a tiny computer in the hearing aid, so enabling digital hearing aids to be set to an individual’s hearing needs.

      • Directional microphones

        Some hearing aids have multiple microphones to help detect the direction of a sound source. This helps the hearing aid to focus more on sounds coming from the front of the person, rather than the side or behind. The microphones make it easier to follow conversations in noisy places.

      • Enlarged vestibular aqueduct

        The vestibular aqueduct and the inner ear are housed in the temporal bone in the skull. The vestibular aqueduct is a narrow, bony canal containing the endolymphatic duct, which carries a fluid called endolymph from the inner ear to the endolymphatic sac. Endolymph is essential for normal inner ear function. It is thought that the endolymphatic duct and sac are responsible for maintaining the chemical composition of the endolymph. If a vestibular aqueduct is enlarged the endolymphatic sac and duct may also become enlarged.

        It is not fully understood what causes enlarged vestibular aqueducts. Most people with enlarged vestibular aqueducts will have some degree of sensorineural (permanent) hearing loss and it can get worse over time. It can occur on its own or as part of a syndrome, such as Pendred syndrome and branchio-oto-renal (BOR) syndrome. Enlarged vestibular aqueducts can also be linked to balance problems.

      G-I

      • Glue ear

      • Hair cell

        Hair cells are sensory cells in the cochlea that convert sound vibrations into electrical signals that then travel along the auditory nerve to the brain. Loss of or damage to hair cells results in permanent hearing loss.

      • Hard of hearing

        We use this term to describe people with mild to moderate hearing loss (unable to hear sounds between 25dB and 69Db). We quite often apply this term to people who are losing their hearing gradually due to age.

      • Hearing aid programmes

        Hearing aids can be set up with different listening programmes depending on the environment they are working in; for example, everyday use, background noise or for use with a loop system.

      • Hearing loss

        We use the term 'hearing loss' in a general way to cover any impairment in hearing, from mild hearing loss (unable to hear sounds below 25dB) to profound deafness (unable to hear sounds below 95dB).

      • Hyperacusis

        Hyperacusis is abnormal discomfort caused by sounds that are tolerable to listeners with ordinary hearing. Many people who experience hyperacusis will not have hearing loss, but it is commonly linked with other hearing problems such as tinnitus or Meniérès Disease.

      • In-the-ear hearing aids

        ITE aids are small enough to fit inside the ear, although not as small as CIC aids. Working parts are either in a small compartment clipped to the earmould or inside the moulded part itself. ITE aids tend to need repairing more often that BTE aids.

      J - L

      • King Kopletzky syndrome

        Also known as Obscure Auditory Dysfunction and is an example of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD).

        An auditory disability, where an individual has difficulty hearing speech in the presence of background noise, but hearing test results present normal hearing thresholds.

      • Loop system

        Also known as an induction loop, a loop system is an assistive listening device that can be used with hearing aids in places where it might be difficult to hear by reducing background noise. Loop systems are commonly available in public places such as banks, post offices and theatres.

        Hearing aid users need to switch to the T or telecoil setting to use a loop system.

      M - O

      • Meniérè’s disease

        Meniérè’s disease is a rare condition that affects the inner ear. It can cause vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss and a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear. Symptoms usually appear without warning and often last for two to three hours.

      • Neural deafness

        Neural deafness is when there is no auditory nerve or it is damaged, so the inner ear cannot send information to the brain.

      • Noise suppression

        Noise-induced hearing loss is when we are exposed to sounds that are too loud, or loud sounds that last a long time, sensitive structures in our ear (hair cells) can be damaged. This causes noise-induced hearing loss. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back, so this hearing loss cannot be reversed.

      • Noise-induced hearing loss

        A system within hearing aids that works to reduce some kinds of background noise automatically so that listening is more comfortable.

      • Open ear fitting

        Conventional ear moulds are not required for open ear fitting. Instead, a small tube carries the sound from the hearing aid into the ear and is held in place by a small tip and/or sprung plastic projection. These small earpieces can give a more natural sound and do not feel as ‘full’ in the ear as conventional ear moulds, but open ear fittings are not suitable for everyone.

      • Ossicles

        Ossicles are tiny bones in the middle ear, which can get damaged. These can be repaired or replaced by having an operation called an ossiculoplasty.

      • Otitis media

        An infection or inflammation of the middle ear, usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

      • Otitis media with effusion

        OME is also known as glue ear and is common in young children. It is caused by a build-up of fluid in the middle ear and normally occurs after acute otitis media.

      • Otosclerosis

        A condition which results in the abnormal growth of bone in the middle ear. It can cause conductive hearing loss. The excess bone prevents the ossicles in the middle ear from moving freely. Hearing loss of this type causes sounds to become quieter rather becoming distorted.

      • Ototoxic drugs

        Drugs that may be damaging to the ear or hearing are known as ototoxic. Some ototoxic drugs may make tinnitus and/or hearing temporarily worse and some can cause permanent damage.

      P - S

      • Perforated eardrums

        A hole or tear in the eardrum. It will usually heal by itself, but it can sometimes require surgery called myringoplasty, where a tissue graft is used to seal up the hole.

      • Presbycusis

        Most people find their hearing gets worse as they get older – this is called age-related hearing loss or presbycusis. If you have noise-induced hearing loss and you develop presbycusis too, the combination will mean that your hearing loss is worse that presbycusis alone.

      • Pulsatile tinnitus

        Please see Tinnitus (pulsatile).

      • Real ear measurement

        Real ear measurement is a method used by an audiologist to make sure that hearing aids are set up the right way for an individual by measuring the sound levels in ear canals.

      • Receiver-in-the-ear hearing aids

        RITE, or loudspeaker-in-the-ear aids are smaller than BTE aids, because some part of the device sits inside the ear. They are not as small as ITE or CIC aids. Like open ear BTEs, they can be easier to put in than an ear mould. There are different RITE hearing aids for different levels of hearing loss.

      • Remote control

        Some hearing aids will have remote controls that allow settings such as the volume and programme selector to be changed in the palm of your hand.

      • Stem cells

        Stem cells have a remarkable capacity to renew themselves and to become different cell types. Introducing stem cells into damaged tissue such as the cochlea can restore different cell types – sensory, hair, supporting and nerve cells. Stem cell therapy can be an alternative to drug and gene therapies and cochlear implants.

      T - V

      • Telecoil

        A telecoil is a small coil of wire within a hearing aid that enables the hearing aid user to make use of a loop system.

      • Tinnitus

        Tinnitus is experienced as noise in the ears or heard. The sound produced by tinnitus is normally described as ringing, whistling or buzzing.

      • Tinnitus

        Pulsatile tinnitus is normally described as rhythmic noise that beats in time with your pulse. This type of tinnitus usually has a specific cause, such as high blood pressure or glue ear.

      • Translational research

        Translational research moves laboratory-based discoveries towards clinical applications. The goal of translational research is to develop basic research into a therapy, treatment or tool that will undergo clinical trials before being made available to patients.

      • Vertigo

        A condition which gives the sensation of losing balance, or a moving environment. Vertigo can cause nausea or difficulty standing. Vertigo is most commonly caused by an imbalance in the inner ear. Other causes include Meniérè’s Disease or inflammation of the vestibular nerve which runs into the inner ear and sends messages to the brain.

      W - Y

      Z