Sounds seem further away, and you might feel like your friends and family are suddenly whispering. Your cell phone has become increasingly hard to talk on, and you keep wondering if your television is starting to wear out because the volume is never loud enough. If you have reached the point where you are reading our website, you are probably open to the possibility that you have a degree of hearing loss. An excellent starting point to see whether or not you might have hearing loss is to take our brief online quiz, which can let you know if further testing might be valuable for you. If you do need further testing, the following information will help you with what to expect.
Measuring hearing loss
Making an appointment to get your hearing checked can be frightening. Denial may feel safer, but it definitely won’t help you hear your grandson’s voice or your best friend’s laughter. Once you get over the fear of making an appointment, you can expect to have an examination that will determine not only how much hearing loss you have, but also what kind of hearing loss. Hearing loss from nerve damage may be treated differently than hearing loss from otosclerosis or Meniere’s Disease. A medical professional will look at the bigger picture to help identify how to treat your hearing loss.
The first thing that usually happens is a physical exam. This is usually easy, a medical provider will look to see if ear wax is impacting your hearing. They will also check for any sign of infection, inflammation, or physical abnormalities of the ear that would affect your ability to hear. This is when you can also expect to answer questions- your hearing, your family history, your job, and your hobbies all come into play. Many factors can affect your hearing, so your doctor will try to uncover any potential threats to your ears.
Screenings are usually a frontline test, used to see if further evaluation is necessary. Screenings can be simple, asking you to try to hear certain words and sounds. Or they can go a bit further, with what is called a “pure-tone test.” These test for the faintest sounds that you can hear, either with headphones or in a soundbooth. If you have issues with the sounds in this screening, further tests and evaluation might be necessary.
Digging deeper than the screening tests, audiometer tests uncover which frequencies you are unable to hear. You will wear headphones, and test one ear at a time, as an audiologist tests for high pitches, low pitches, and different frequencies. Knowing what frequencies you have issues hearing can help determine how to correct your hearing loss.
“Bone Conduction” is a test that will see if your inner ear bones are working correctly in conduction of sound waves. By sending sound directly into the inner ear, an audiologist can tell if your hearing loss is conductive (bones), sensorineural (nerve), or a mixture of both.
“Acoustic Immittance” is another test that an audiologist may perform to test how your middle ear is functioning. The most common test, a tympanometry, measures how the eardrum works when pressure is applied. If the eardrum does not respond to pressure appropriately, this indicates that it might be part of the problem with your hearing.
The first time a doctor pulls out tuning forks might be a little alarming. Tuning forks look exactly like their name- long metal fork-like instruments of varying sizes. Doctors use tuning forks to test for damage to nerves in your inner ear, and damage to the vibrating components of your middle ear, including your eardrum, stapes, malleus, and incus. Tuning forks are low-tech but effective tools for measuring different types of hearing loss.
Special Testing- Children and Infants
Infants as young as six months old can be tested for hearing loss. This is invaluable, because the earlier that hearing loss is uncovered, the more damage can be prevented. Infants and children can have earphones placed on their head, and even their eye movements upon hearing sound can determine what frequencies they can or cannot hear. Toddlers and children can be tested in sound booths or with earphones, and follow simple instructions to see how well they hear voices and high pitches. Testing for children tends to be non-invasive and simple, so that they have a positive experience with their audiologist and treatment plan.
Hearing tests involve several different steps. The first step, our one minute hearing quiz, is an important one. Answering these simple questions will help you determine if you need further testing. Further testing will give you knowledge about what sort of hearing loss that you have, and how severe the loss is. Armed with this information, you can then determine what hearing aids will work best for you so that you can participate fully in the wonderful noisy world!