Who Said Hearing Aids Mean You Can't Be Sexy? How Facing Up to Her Deafness Has Left Rula Lenska Feeling Years Younger

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Byline: Jill Foster

Although you can't spot them underneath her famous flamered hair, Rula Lenska wears hearing aids in both ears.

'I don't even know I've got them in,' she says. 'And I challenge anyone to be able to tell, even when I've got my hair up. People still think that you have to wear a huge contraption but, in fact, they can be colourmatched to your hair and are very discreet.

'Let's face it, you associate hearing loss with getting old and boring. But who says you can't be sexy and wear hearing aids?'

The vivacious 63yearold star, whose face - and husky voice - have been familiar features on British screens for more than 40 years, first started losing her hearing a decade ago. Rula, who is seen regularly on TV as Claudia Colby in Coronation Street, says: 'I wasn't really aware of it at first.

'It may have been going for many years but it was only when I reached my mid50s and people started making cruel comments that I had the television on too loudly or that I hadn't heard someone speaking to me, that I suspected something might be wrong.

'Even so, I was too embarrassed to admit that I was losing my hearing. Instead, I started shying away from social situations where I could be accused of ignoring people when, in fact, I simply couldn't hear them.

'With work, it was fine when I was on stage as actors enunciate well but I'd struggle to hear what people were saying when we were rehearsing in large, echoey halls.

'It was only at a routine medical checkup that I have every three years that my doctor confirmed I had lost some hearing. Although I'd suspected it, I was alarmed and upset.'

Told that she had lost about 30 per cent of her higherfrequency hearing in her right ear and 20 per cent in the other - giving her a moderate hearing loss - she was referred to a specialist at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London, who performed tests including an MRI scan on her head, neck and shoulders to find the cause.

'None of my relatives had ever lost their hearing so there was no genetic link,' says Rula, who was born and raised in Cambridgeshire, the eldest daughter of exiled Polish aristocrats Major Count Ludwik Maria Lubienski and Countess Elzbieta Tyszkiewicz. 'And I hadn't suffered from any head trauma or loud noise.

'The only connection the doctors could make was that I'd suffered a couple of serious ear infections when I was younger after I'd been scubadiving.

'When you dive near coral it can enter the ear and damage the cilia - the hairs in the inner ear - and this can cause loss of hearing. I'd treated the infections with strong antibiotics but they had taken a long time to heal and that may be why I've lost some hearing. But the doctors say my loss of hearing is still a mystery.' One in seven people in the UK have hearing problems, most commonly as a result of the ageing process. About 71 per cent of people over 70 and 41 per cent of people over 50 in the UK have some kind of impairment.

Audiologist Mark Edgar explains: 'Hearing loss happens to everyone as a natural part of ageing - we call this presbycusis. Basically, the cells that pick up sound within the ear wear out. But most patients I see who, like Rula, have moderate levels of hightone loss are in their 70s.

'In younger patients, hearing is more likely to be damaged due to trauma such as a blow to the head or infections, and swimming is a common cause. …