The Sound of Silence; Julie Ryder, 33, Is One of Nine Million Britons Who Suffer Some Degree of Deafness. from Her Early 20s She Spent Nearly a Decade in a World of Silence, until a Breakthrough Treatment Restored Her Hearing

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Julie Ryder was a bubbly career woman when she began to lose her hearing 12 years ago and people started treating her like a fool.

"Sadly, the old phrase 'deaf and dumb' still applies in the minds of hearing people.

"When I needed co-operation and understanding, I was treated as though I was losing my brain," says the mother-of-two, who gradually became profoundly deaf during her 20s.

When she first started to mishear things Julie, who comes from Bacup, Lancashire, went to the doctor and was diagnosed with mild hearing loss - thought to be genetic in cause - in both ears. A few months later she was fitted with her first hearing aids.

Within six years, she was profoundly deaf.

"One week I could hear an alarm clock tick, the next week I could only hear the ticking with a hearing aid, and the next week I couldn't hear it at all - sounds were just disappearing."

Her deafness meant she missed the first words of her children, and Julie worries that Alfie, five, and Annie, three, may have felt ignored by a mother who loved them dearly, but simply couldn't hear what they said.

"Funnily enough, it wasn't missing their first words that I minded. It was that I could never hear what they were saying and other people could.

"We'd be in the supermarket and they'd ask for something and I wouldn't be able to hear over the background noise but people around me could.

"They'd look at me as if to say. 'What's wrong with her, why doesn't she answer her kids?'"

"As my hearing loss got greater over the years I became isolated and very lonely. I withdrew into myself and lost my confidence and self-esteem."

Her relationship with husband Matthew, also 33, suffered as a result.

"My world shrunk to Matthew and my family. I didn't want to mix with people socially - it was too stressful.

"I'm lucky Matthew is a bit of a homebody - if he hadn't been it could have broken us up.

"We couldn't communicate as most couples do and couldn't talk from room to room. Matthew would still speak to me as though I was a hearing person and get annoyed that I hadn't heard.

"I'd say to him 'Come and tap me on the shoulder, wait to see me turn around and then speak so I can lip-read.'"

For Julie, her growing deafness meant leaving the job she loved as a NatWest mortgage adviser. Despite passing all her banking exams, she found herself moved to a lower-rated post.

"Personnel were quite sympathetic but I'd ask to come and talk to them personally so I could lip-read yet they did it all on the phone.

"I'd sob when I got home at night.

"They did move me to another department but I was at a computer, punching in numbers from a print-out. …