Underlying issues can cause or contribute to hearing loss. The general diagnosis can be broken down into 3 categories:
- Conductive hearing loss is caused by a blockage in the external part of the ear, such as ear wax, or by a blockage in the middle ear space such as fluid in the middle ear. Conductive hearing losses can often, but not always, be treated with medication or surgery.
- Sensory hearing loss is typically caused by noise exposure and aging, and involves damaged inner ear hair cells. This type of hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids, and makes up the bulk of hearing aid wearers throughout the world.
- Neural hearing loss involves problems at levels deeper in the brain, beyond the level of the inner ear. One type of neural hearing loss is called auditory neuropathy. With auditory neuropathy, the VIIIth auditory nerve fails to send a signal from the inner ear through to the brain. Amplification with hearing aids isn’t helpful for most neural problems.
Your local ENT physician and staff can help you identify what type of hearing loss you have and recommend possible treatment options. Your exam will require various tests to determine an accurate diagnosis.
The audiologist will perform an otoscopic examination, looking in your ears to make sure they are free of ear wax.
Next, you will receive a hearing test. Your audiologist will use the results to determine whether or not your hearing loss can be treated medically vs. treated with hearing aids. You will be asked to either raise your hand, push a button, or say “yes” each time you hear a tone or series of beeping sounds. A graph will chart the softest sounds you can hear.
If your hearing levels fall in a range that suggests you would benefit from hearing aids, you will be given a list of words to repeat. The resulting score reveals how accurately you were able to repeat the words that were said, helping your audiologist determine whether hearing aids will help, or if an alternate treatment is required.
You may encounter offers of cheap, quick fixes to what can be a serious medical condition: hearing tests over the phone, through your computer, or even hearing tests offered in noisy settings. Accurate hearing test needs to be performed in quiet, sound-treated environments, with equipment that has been calibrated to specific standards.
Professionals with established offices have their equipment calibrated regularly and will be able to give you an accurate test. Your records will also be available should you ever need to refer back to a previous test result.