If you think you might have hearing loss, early treatment is the best option. Your doctor will be able to diagnose the issue and the potential underlying cause. Though damage to the inner ear is usually not reversible, hearing aids can be used to restore a significant portion of your ability to hear.
You might not notice hearing loss at first since it progresses gradually. If it’s been harder for you to follow conversations, hear certain sounds, or listen to the television at your usual volume, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
But being screened for hearing loss can be nerve wracking. Fortunately, the process doesn’t have to be painful or difficult. Here’s what you can expect, along with some questions you’ll want to ask your audiologist.
A Preliminary Medical History
As with most healthcare professionals, an audiologist will start your visit by gathering information on your medical background and current concerns. Dozens of different things can cause hearing loss. The detailed medical history helps rule out or rule in potential hereditary causes.
Even conditions that seem unrelated to the hearing loss, like head colds and allergies, can play a vital role in your diagnosis. Sometimes hearing loss is caused by a blockage in your ear rather than damage to your inner ear. In these cases, removing the blockage tends to restore your hearing.
In addition to getting information about your current health, past health conditions, family history, and any medications or supplements you take, your audiologist will ask screening questions about environmental factors. For example, they’ll ask about the noise levels in your workplace and whether you often go to loud places in a social context. In the United States, noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common forms of hearing loss unrelated to age.
The Hearing Test
Your audiologist will most likely have you do a full hearing test. This non-invasive and painless procedure helps to determine the type and extent of your hearing loss. You’ll take the test in a quiet and sound-treated room. The test is administered through headphones or soft earplugs.
Pure Tone Audiometry
During this part of the test, you’ll listen to clear tones at different volumes and pitches. You’ll need to indicate when you hear a sound. This test helps determine the range of frequencies and volumes that you can hear.
Rather than using pure tones, speech audiometry uses live or recorded speech. This portion of the exam helps the audiologist understand what speech sounds you can understand, and at what volume you need to hear words spoken to process them. You’ll also be asked to repeat words back to indicate how well you’ve understood them.
This is very helpful for individuals who struggle with certain sounds but aren’t sure which ones or why. Some people with hearing loss have trouble differentiating consonants or hearing “S” sounds. Others have trouble making out words that are spoken at certain pitches.
Depending on your concerns and the test results, your audiologist may also perform tympanometry. This test measures the reflexes of your ear muscles and eardrum. It is administered by placing a soft plug in the ear. The plug then generates sounds and creates changes in pressure, and the audiologist measures how your ear muscles and eardrum respond.
Questions After the Test
You might be a little overwhelmed by all the information available, and when talking to your audiologist, it can be hard to know where to start. After you have your test results, make sure you get the answers to the following questions:
- What kind of hearing loss is this? Will my hearing get worse over time?
- Do I have the same levels of hearing loss in both ears?
- Do I need hearing aids for both ears, or just one?
- What kind of hearing aid would suit my lifestyle and type of hearing loss best?
- How often will my hearing aids need to be checked and adjusted?
- How long will my hearing aids last?
- Is there a warranty on these hearing aids?