Whether you are sure you have hearing loss, suspect you might, or even if you haven’t noticed a change in hearing ability at all, it’s always a good idea to get your hearing tested at regular intervals. Early intervention might clue us in to lifestyle changes that can prevent further hearing loss, and treatment such as hearing aids can keep us living our lives without the disturbances in relationships or general well-being that hearing loss can cause.
Your Personal Hearing Health History
An appointment with a hearing healthcare professional will begin with a look at your medical history as well as your personal hearing health history. They will ask what concerns you have, and you can describe any hearing difficulties you’ve been having or incidents that you feel may have caused any problems. This will also be an opportunity to determine if you may have any genetic hearing issues, either latent or active. It could also be that you are having a medical issue that is causing temporary hearing issues, such as a head cold, head trauma or a buildup of earwax (cerumen).
They will also ask about the levels of noise in your work environment. Be sure to report temporary or regular workplace hearing hazards. Mention any other exposures to loud noise you can think of. Excessive noise-exposure is common in today’s world.
Your hearing healthcare professional will also want to know about any other symptoms you may be having, which may or may not be hearing-related. Even fatigue is a common byproduct of hearing loss, so be sure to discuss any difficulties you’ve been having in normal social situations or engaging with work or hobbies.
The Hearing Test
Hearing tests are usually conducted in sound-proof booths or anechoic chambers, where no sounds from computers, buzzing lights or HVAC systems can interfere with the test. You will likely be asked to wear a set of headphones, but that is about it. The tests are painless and non-invasive; they just require you to listen to a few sounds and report back what you hear.
Most commonly, a hearing test will involve two types of tests: pure tone audiometry and speech audiometry. “Audiometry” is the term for taking a measurement of a person’s hearing ability, both in terms of range and sensitivity.
Pure tone audiometry measures sensitivity at different pitches (or “frequencies”) of pure tones (or “sine waves”). It will be able to tell exactly the quietest sounds you can hear at different frequencies. Because hearing loss often involves a greater loss of high frequencies than low, it is important to determine what range of your hearing has been most affected. The hearing professional will give you instructions through a set of headphones, through which they will also present the tones at progressively quieter levels. They will ask you to indicate whether you’ve heard the tones, and in which ear.
Speech audiometry is more concerned with measuring your ability to make out human speech. The hearing professional will determine the softest level of human speech you can hear by asking you to repeat back sentences that are played for you at various volume levels. The results of this test are frequently used for calibrating just how much additional volume you might need from treatments such as hearing aids.
Most age-related hearing loss is caused by the slow deterioration of the cilia (tiny hair-like cells) or the auditory nerve, in the inner ear. In some cases, a hearing test may reveal that the culprit is more likely to be the eardrum or the ossicles (bones) in the middle ear, which will involve tympanometry. This test requires placing a soft plug in the ear canal, which generates pressure changes and allows the hearing professional to check the movement of the eardrum and the muscles of the middle ear. The test, like audiometry, is quick and painless, except in some cases where the patient is suffering from inflammation of the eardrum or middle ear.
Understanding the Test Results
Hearing healthcare professionals use a graph called an audiogram to display the results of your hearing test. The y-axis of the audiogram represents volume level, shown in “decibels of hearing threshold level” (dB HL), while the x-axis represents the frequency range of human hearing from low to high (theoretically 20 – 20,000 Hz). There will be two lines on the audiogram (one for each ear), with plots at every frequency presented to you during the pure tone audiometry test. They may be the same or they may be very different. A key will indicate the decibel ranges for optimal hearing and varying degrees of hearing loss. Depending on where your results lie at different frequencies, your hearing healthcare professional will recommend the best treatment for you.
Getting a hearing test is a quick and painless procedure that can lead to dramatic improvements in our quality of life. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional and start experiencing the benefits of hearing loss treatments today.