Hearing loss is a surprisingly common problem. Around one in five Americans report some degree of the issue. If you notice that you have difficulty hearing, you may wonder what the next steps are. As you likely can guess, you will need some hearing tests to help with the diagnosis. However, if you are like most people, you have no idea what those tests will involve.
Who To Talk to About Hearing Loss
If you suspect that you have hearing loss, you may wonder who you need to talk to. Most patients begin with an appointment with their primary care physicians. Most of these doctors are not specialists in hearing issues. However, they can treat conditions such as ear infections and may provide a referral to see a specialist. Additionally, many primary care offices are set up to do some basic hearing testing.
Whether you see a primary care physician or not, the next step is an appointment with an audiologist. Many hearing aid chains offer hearing tests. However, these are mostly performed by technicians or hearing instrument specialists and the primary goal of these centers is to sell and service hearing aids. Therefore, it is often not a good idea to go to a hearing aid specialist.
Instead, you should see an audiologist. These are trained medical professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating hearing issues. Many have doctorates and can provide better care and testing than any other provider. They are likely to order a few different tests.
Types of Hearing Tests
There are several ways that your primary care physician or audiologist may test your hearing. These are some of the most common types of tests:
- Physical Exam: Nearly every patient will receive a physical exam at some point. This involves looking at your ear to inspect for problems. It may reveal issues such as infection, inflammation, excessive earwax or structural problems.
- Audiometry: This type of test involves a machine that produces various tones. The patient indicates when he or she hears a sound, often by raising a hand. An audiometer can test the volumes and pitches the patient can hear. A simpler version of this test using tuning forks may be performed by some doctors.
- Otoacoustic Emissions Testing: This non-invasive test involves a probe that measures the inner ear function. It can be used on infants as an early test. The probe plays a tone and measured if the outer hair cells of the cochlea react or not.
- Impedance Testing: During this middle-ear test, the eardrum is subjected to different pressure conditions to measure its mobility. This may be used with infants or to help diagnose which parts of the ear have hearing loss.
- Auditory Brainstem Response: Equipment is used to measure the brainstem’s response to sounds. This isn’t truly testing what the patient can hear. Instead, it is checking to see if there is a neural response to a sound or not.
Screening Vs. Testing
Some of the above tests are relatively advanced and specific. Other tests may be used for screening. Audiometry is a common way to screen for hearing issues. Another option is called a general screening test. This involves the patient covering one ear and listening to them responding to speech at different volumes. This is a limited but simple test.
Screening typically is intended to be quick and cursory. The goal is to identify whether a problem exists or not. If one is detecting, the patient will need additional testing to diagnose the specific issue.
When To Seek Testing
Of course, none of this can happen if you don’t seek help or receive regular screenings. Most adults do not receive screenings. Therefore, it is important to know the warning signs of hearing loss.
- Difficulty following conversations
- Difficult hearing the phone on one or both ears
- Loved ones say you turn the TV or other media too loud
- Trouble hearing in noisy environments
- Regularly misunderstanding people
- Asking people to repeat themselves
- People appear to be mumbling often
Any of these signs may be indicators that you have hearing loss. Some of the clearest signs are when your friends and family members appear to hear something more easily or more loudly than you do. That being said, these signs do not necessarily mean you have hearing loss. They are just indicators. The only way to be sure is to see an audiologist or other professional for testing.
Next Steps After Testing
If you have received testing and a diagnosis, your audiologist will guide you on what to do next. Treatments may involve surgery, medication or hearing aids. In some cases, cleaning the ear or treating an infection can improve hearing. In other cases, more extensive treatment is necessary.
Dealing with hearing loss can be intimidating. However, with proper testing and help from your audiologist, ENT doctor or other professional, you can address the problem and enjoy better hearing. Don’t wait to get tested if you suspect hearing loss.