PENNY Morris used to say "pardon" and "excuse me" more than anything else.
Fearful a stranger would strike up a conversation, the Yeppoon woman kept her head down and avoided the eyes of people passing by.
"I was becoming very isolated," she said.
"That was the scary part. I lost a lot of confidence."
Then, in February 2012, Penny received a cochlear implant and her life changed.
Penny shared her story with The Morning Bulletin as part of Hearing Awareness Week, which was last week.
The Tropical Pines administration manager said in her late teens to early 20s she started to notice a problem with her hearing.
"My mum had otosclerosis," she said.
"It's a hereditary issue. She had an operation to fix hers but I had other issues with mine which put me out of the running for any operative fixes."
For a decade she struggled on her own, until she just couldn't cope anymore.
After three sets of hearing aids, Penny said she could tell her condition was deteriorating.
"A cochlear implant was my only avenue," she said.
"It's the biggest decision I've ever had to make I think."
Penny said the procedure saved her career, allowing her to continue working.
"It was amazing when I first got them switched on," she said.
"The sound was very digital... but now after having them for a while it doesn't feel any different. It's great to have someone walk into my office while my head is down and I hear them before I see them."
Penny said she wanted to inspire others with hearing difficulties to consider a cochlear implant.
"People may leave it too long, not knowing the option is there for them," she said.
"Timing is critical."
About 3.5 million Australians are affected by hearing loss
Half are of a working age
Only 10-20% of people who could benefit from a hearing aid wear them