Having the ability to hear well plays a big role in how we engage with the world around us. Hearing offers us comfort and protection and also gives us the ability to learn, communicate, and experience what is going on. Any type of damage to your inner ear can impair your hearing. This often happens so slowly and subtly that you might not even be able to notice a change.
Consider this: according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, about 20 percent of adults in the United States (48 million), report some degree of hearing loss. At age 65, one out of three people has hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), roughly 15% of Americans (26 million) betweens the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss.
Hearing loss is more common than people realize, as it takes third place on the list of most common physical conditions followed by arthritis and heart disease.
So the question is, are you experiencing hearing loss and should you see an audiologist?
Many times people don’t even realize they are experiencing hearing loss. Think about the questions below.
- Do you often feel like people are mumbling?
- Have others complained about how loud you turn up the TV or radio?
- Do you have difficulty talking on the phone?
- Do you frequently have to ask others to repeat themselves?
- Do you have trouble understanding a conversation if there is background noise?
- Have you found yourself avoiding social activities that would require you to hear well?
- Do you have ringing in your ears?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you should consider having a complete hearing evaluation performed by a licensed audiologist. This may seem frightening, embarrassing, and nerve-wracking if you aren’t sure what an audiologist does and how they can help you. But we are here to help give you an idea of what to expect.
When you visit a hearing doctor, there are four main areas that will be discussed and checked.
1. Case History
First and foremost, the audiologist will take a case history. He will ask you questions about your hearing, noise exposure, communication issues, and medical issues. Having a detailed case history helps the audiologist get a better idea of the issue as a whole and helps him understand your concerns.
An otoscopy simply involves looking down your ear canal with an “otoscope.” You have probably had this done before during a regular doctor visit. Basically, the hearing doctor is checking for things like wax, blockages, and any easily recognizable problems with your ear canal or eardrum.
Tympanometry is a test of the middle ear. It measures how your ear reacts to sound and different pressures. A small device will be placed into your ear that changes the pressure in your ear and makes the eardrum move back and forth. You may also hear a series of loud beeps. You may feel slight discomfort but the test should result in no harm.
An audiometry exam tests your ability to hear sounds. Sounds vary based on their loudness (intensity) and the speed of sound wave vibrations (tone). You will be placed in a soundproof booth or room and instructed to indicate (either by pushing a button, raising your hand, or the like) when you hear a sound or soft tone in your ears.
You will be given a pair of earphones to wear, and the audiologist will control the tone and loudness to determine the softest sound you can hear. Each ear is tested separately. This is called testing via air conduction.
The audiologist will also place a bone oscillator behind the ear that will transmit sound to the inner ear, bypassing the middle and outer ear. This is referred to as testing via bone conduction and is useful for determining inner ear problems due to aging or noise exposure.
The results are then plotted on an audiogram to show any patterns of hearing loss. You may also complete other tasks including a speech discrimination test. This is simply to determine your speech understanding in both quiet and real world background noise.
After the audiologist performs these tests, he will explain the results. He might suggest that you have your hearing tested on a regular basis. He might refer you to another medical professional. He might also suggest hearing aids or listening devices as a possible solution.
Many people have misconceptions about hearing loss and treatment. Some believe that their type of hearing loss is untreatable. Many believe hearing aids are a sign of old age. Others believe all hearing aids are extremely noticeable and embarrassing. However, these conceptions are misguided.
It may be difficult to accept hearing loss and even more difficult to take action, but a hearing doctor can significantly help. They can determine the nature of your hearing loss and recommend the most appropriate action for you. So if you think you might be experiencing hearing loss, seeing an audiologist could be the best decision of your life.