If you don't get sick very often or have a chronic medical condition that requires frequent visits to the doctor, chances are you don't see your general practitioner all too frequently. But the new year is a great time to set up a new time to see your physician for a general checkup and physical - and make it an annual event thereafter.
What happens at an annual exam
At a yearly physical, the routine changes depending upon your age, but here are the main components for people of any age:
- Health history. Before your exam, you will complete paperwork about your health history. At a new physician's office, the paperwork will likely be extensive, asking about both personal and family health history. If this is a physician you have previously visited, however, you will likely only be required to check over and update your healthy history.
- Vital signs. A nurse will take your blood pressure and check your respiratory and heart rate before you see the doctor.
- A physical exam. This will chiefly include listening to your heart and lungs, but might also include checking other parts of the body like nails, head, neck, limbs and abdominal area, depending upon previous health issues you have had. The doctor will then ask you questions about former illnesses, surgeries, etc.
- A visual exam. Though you might not be aware of it, the doctor will probably conduct a visual exam, scanning your appearance for signs of stress or other obvious health conditions.
- Lab tests. If you go in with an illness or are an older adult, the doctor may do a blood draw and run lab tests, especially if you're at risk for heart disease or stroke.
Importance of hearing tests
Hearing tests aren't always a routine part of an annual exam, especially for younger people. Regardless, you should request a hearing screening from your general practitioner if you:
- Have even minor trouble hearing.
- Have been told by others that you might have a hearing loss.
- Are an older adult.
On average, people wait seven years from the time they realize they have hearing loss before getting their hearing checked - often because they are afraid to know for sure. If you suspect you have a hearing loss or have heard it from others, it's important to get your hearing checked so you can start enjoying all of the sounds you've been missing for so long. Additionally, untreated hearing loss can lead to falls, social isolation and depression. If you're nervous to go by yourself, recruit a friend or family member to go with you for support, and rest assured in the knowledge that you're not alone: 36 million people in the United States alone have hearing loss.
Self hearing screening
Before heading to your general wellness exam, conduct a hearing screening on yourself. This is a good idea as, in the event your physician suggests you have a hearing loss, you will be prepared with questions to ask her or him about your hearing health.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I often ask people to repeat what they have said?
- Is hearing over the phone especially difficult for me?
- Do I frequently turn up the TV or car radio volume? Have others commented on how loud the TV is?
- Is it difficult for me to hear in groups, for example - while out to eat with friends or at the family dinner table?
- Does it seem like other people are mumbling all the time?
- Have I started to dread answering the phone, going to a busy restaurant or visiting family parties?
- Is it hard for me to hear at the movies?
- Have I missed my alarm clock going off?
- Do I fail to hear someone talking behind me?
- Is it more difficult for me to understand women's and children's voices?
- Do I have trouble following a conversation with two or more people speaking at once?
- Am I experiencing ringing, buzzing, clicking, hissing, whooshing, roaring or similar sounds in one or both ears?
Preparing for the appointment
Here are some things to do when preparing for your annual exam:
- Write down questions you have about your general health, particular symptoms or medications. It's often difficult to remember all of your questions in the moment. Even if your doctor does not know the answers, he or she can direct you to someone who does.
- Bring a notepad and pen so you can write down answers your doctor gives you.
- Bring your spouse, family member or close friend for support, especially when talking about your hearing health. It's great to have another set of ears, and another person might think of important questions you never thought to ask.
- If you know you have a hearing loss, bring specific questions to ask your doctor about improving your hearing, using hearing aids or other devices that can help.
How does a physician test for hearing loss?
Though your general practitioner will not have the sophisticated equipment to test the exact level of your hearing, generate an audiogram and assess the results to find a solution for your hearing loss, he or she will be able to do simple tests to determine if you have trouble hearing.
The most basic test is the whisper test, which is very simple. Your doctor will stand behind you so you cannot see her or his lips for lipreading. The doctor will cover one ear at a time and repeat a set of three random numbers. She or he will gage your accuracy at each level of loudness, from conversational speech to a whispered voice.
Though it's a simple tactic that is clearly not an exact science, your physician will be able to tell whether you might need further assessment by an audiologist. She or he will likely ask you questions about your hearing or give you a survey to complete as well. Then, he or she will hopefully refer you to a few different local audiologists for a hearing test.