Hearing Test: Don't Fear, It Doesn't Hurt
Things change. You change. And maybe you’ve noticed a change in your hearing. Maybe things are a little muffled, or maybe you’ve seen the TV volume notch up over the past months. Hearing loss is pretty common. In fact, recent data suggests 34.25 million Americans experience some degree of hearing loss.
Studies indicate that 1 in 4 Americans who recognize their own hearing loss actually do something about it by adopting amplification. Yet with so many different causes of hearing loss and so many solutions to solving the problem of hearing loss, why don’t more of us do something about it?
If you noticed that you couldn’t read the newspaper over coffee, you’d go see a vision specialist, right? And you’d get a pair of glasses so you could read the fine print, right? Sure, no big deal when the eyes start to go. But when the ears don’t produce like they once did, we just turn up the volume or say the word “what” a lot.
Time to See a Hearing Pro: How do you know?
Hearing loss is often gradual so it’s not something you may notice right away. There are signs, however – signals that indicate it’s time to see a hearing professional. Check out these questions and be honest in your answers – a good place to start on your journey to hearing health:
- Have friends, family, neighbors or co-workers told you to have your hearing checked?
- Are you the only one in the room comfortable with the TV blasting?
- Are you exposed to loud sound levels over long periods of time, i.e. your workplace is noisy or you listen to an MP3 player every waking minute?
- Do you have trouble hearing in large groups or background noise?
- Can you distinguish the voice of a dinner companion through the din of a loud restaurant?
- Are you able to clearly hear the voices of children and women without straining?
- Do you ever experience “ringing in the ears?”
- Can you hear the birds twittering in the trees?
- Does your favorite music sound as good as it used to?
Get the point?
How Do I Get My Hearing Tested?
It’s simple, doesn’t hurt and won’t take too much of your time.
A full hearing evaluation (more than just a quick screening) is usually performed by an audiologist or licensed hearing instrument dispenser.
An audiologist is a highly-trained professional in the prevention, identification, assessment and non-medical treatment of hearing disorders. Audiologists hold either a master’s degree or doctorate degree in Audiology and are licensed in most states. Many audiologists specialize in their field; for example, some specialize in hearing aid technology, pediatric hearing loss, geriatric hearing loss, tinnitus therapies, vestibular (balance) testing, etc.
A licensed hearing instrument dispenser’s qualifications vary state by state as state laws dictate the level of education and training that is required to become a licensed hearing instrument dispenser. Most often individuals must hold a high school diploma and complete a traineeship. Some states do require hearing instrument dispensers to obtain further education in the study of hearing loss and hearing aid technology.
To find a hearing professional one place to begin is by asking your family physician for a referral. You may also want to ask family and friends with hearing loss who they have been seen by. Finding the right hearing professional is an important first step towards healthy hearing and success with hearing aids.
The more information you collect in finding a hearing professional, the better equipped you are to serve as your own advocate for better hearing. In other words, a well-educated patient collaborates with the hearing professional to deliver the best hearing experience possible.
What Is a Hearing Test?
|An otoscopic exam is a performed prior to hearing test|
So you’ve decided to take the next step and have your hearing test. Wondering what it will entail?
The first step in a hearing test is called the case history. You’ve more than likely been through a case history process before at other medical visits. On your first visit to your hearing professional you’ll be asked about your medical history, current medical issues, medications, hearing loss symptoms, family history of hearing loss, history of noise exposure, your hearing concerns, etc.
This will provide the hearing professional with an overview of your medical situation and will help them in assessing the hearing test results as well as assist in determining the necessity of a medical referral following the hearing test.
Next the hearing professional will examine your ear canals and eardrum with a specialized ear light called an otoscope. This is necessary to check for issues such as wax in your ear canal or infection of the middle ear.
Finally it is time to begin the hearing test. You will be placed in a sound treated test booth or a quiet room. During the hearing test, a series of tones of different frequencies (also known as pitches) as well as speech signals will be presented to each ear separately through earphones. You will respond to test signals either by a hand raise, pushing a button, or in the case of speech signals, repeating what was heard.
The lowest levels of the test signals you can hear at least half of the time are called your hearing thresholds. Thresholds are recorded for each frequency and each ear on a chart called an audiogram.
Further tests may be conducted during the test. Your ability to understand words or sentences at different levels may be assessed. Tympanometry or testing of the middle ear function may also be assessed.
Hearing Test Results: The Audiogram
As mentioned during the hearing test the hearing professional is looking for your hearing “thresholds – the softest sound you can hear at each frequency at least half of the time. These thresholds assist in determining type and degree of hearing loss, potential causes of your hearing loss as well as your treatment plan (i.e. hearing aid candidacy, etc).
The thresholds are plotted on an audiogram (see below) which provides a visual representation of your hearing loss.
Your thresholds (loudness) are measured in decibels hearing level (dB HL). It is represented on the vertical axis of the audiogram, from approximately 0 dB HL (very soft) to 110 dB HL (very loud).
Frequency or pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz.). It is represented on the horizontal axis of the audiogram, from 250Hz (very low pitch) to 8000 Hz (very high pitch).
The degree of hearing loss is based on the thresholds obtained during the hearing test, and ranges from least to most severity in this order: mild, moderate, moderately-severe, severe and profound.
Each ear is tested separately and plotted separately on the audiogram. The right ear is represented by the letter “O” and the left ear is represented by the letter “X”. The response at each frequency is plotted for each ear.
The most common type of hearing loss is high-frequency hearing loss and an example is shown on the audiogram below. As you can see in the low frequencies hearing thresholds for both ears are within normal range; however around 2000 Hz (a mid pitch) hearing begins to slope and worsen in the higher frequencies. This particular example would be called a mild to moderately-severe high frequency hearing loss.
During the hearing evaluation the hearing professional will look for any red flags of underlying medical conditions that may require treatment by an otolaryngologist, or ear nose and throat specialist. Audiologists and licensed hearing instrument dispensers typically refer patients to ENT specialists when they suspect that disease, trauma or some other factor has caused the hearing loss.
Hearing loss can be categorized as conductive, sensorineural or a combination of the two factors which is referred to as a mixed hearing loss. The type of hearing loss can be determined by comparing testing done with earphones and testing done with a special bone oscillator headband.
This is the bottom line and why you underwent a hearing evaluation in the first place – recommendations. Solutions to address your hearing loss.
Expect any number of outcomes from your hearing evaluation. The hearing professional may refer you to a medical doctor if the hearing loss is suspect to be caused by a medical issue that may be treatable.
And you can almost be certain that your hearing professional is going to make lifestyle recommendations – especially in cases of mild hearing loss. For example, smoking is related to hearing loss. So is mowing the lawn without wearing some kind of hearing protection so expect to receive good advice you can use to lessen the degree of hearing loss, or the rate at which you’re actually losing the ability to hear.
And of course, the hearing professional will discuss with you if you are in fact a hearing aid candidate. Hearing aids are recommended for a wide range of hearing losses from mild to severe.
Your take-away from “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hearing Evaluations But Were Afraid to Ask?” Do it.
Hearing loss is often a progressive condition and rarely does hearing return all on its own. A pro-active approach is your best solution so we’re talking about getting fitted with a pair of hearing aids. Your hearing professional may fit you with the type of hearing aid to best address your type of hearing loss, wearing preferences, lifestyles and degree of hearing loss.
According to recent research carried out by the Better Hearing Institute persons with hearing loss on average wait 7 years before purchasing a hearing aid after learning they have hearing loss. Would you wait 7 years to get eyeglasses after finding out you have significant vision loss? No, you want to see. So why do people choose not to fully hear life for 7 years? Those are 7 years of sounds you will never get back.
Early diagnosis along with early treatment of hearing loss has been proven to result in the most successful outcomes. Not to mention that treating hearing loss will have a direct positive impact on quality of life, relationships, earning power, need we say more?
To put it simply, the quicker you address hearing loss, the better the listening outcomes. And with today’s modern, digital hearing aids, you’ve got no reason to wait to make that call.
What, you’re still reading? Find a hearing professional near you today and give them a call. When it comes to your hearing, you don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone.