Hearing Loss

Friends and family members have been hinting that you need to have your hearing checked. You took a free online hearing test, but now you're worried because these unofficial test results indicate you have a hearing loss. What should you do?

First, do not panic. Make an appointment with an Ear, Throat, and Nose (ENT) doctor and have your ears examined. An ENT can do an examination and let you know immediately if there is an obvious reason for a decline in your hearing, such as fluid in the ears, an ear infection, or wax build-up. If there is no apparent reason for your hearing loss, the ENT will probably do additional testing and may refer you to an audiologist for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.

Hearing Exam

The audiologist will examine your ear drums and measure the pressure in your middle ear before beginning the test. While wearing headphones, you will listen to a series of tones in different frequencies and decibels, and indicate the ones you can hear. Your responses will be graded on an audiogram.

Words classified as spondees (two-syllable words that have equal stress on each syllable) will be played into your answers for you to repeat. This part of the test determines how well you understand speech. Background noise will be played during a part of the speech comprehension test to measure how well you hear in a noisy environment.

After the testing is complete, your audiologist will be able to tell you if you are listening below normal or not. If you are diagnosed with a hearing loss, your audiologist will tell the type of loss you have and recommend treatment options. There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. A conductive loss is caused by problems with the ear canal, ear drum, or middle ear and its tiny bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes). This type of hearing loss is usually treated medically or surgically. A sensorineural loss is also known as nerve-deafness, and is caused by problems in the inner ear. Hearing aids are usually prescribed. A mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

If the audiologist determines you have a sensorineural loss, you can probably be helped with hearing aids. Conductive losses can not be helped with hearing aids due to damage in the inner ear and outer / middle ear. People with a mixed loss may or may not benefit from hearing aids; the conductive loss should be treated first, then hearing aids may be helpful.

If you've received an official diagnosis of hearing loss, there's no reason to feel embarrassed. If hearing aids will help you, there's nothing shameful about wearing them. People who wear glasses or contacts are not accused of having less than perfect vision, they're simply using assistive technology to see normally. Likewise, hearing aids are assistive technology, but with a huge difference – hearing aids will not give you normal hearing, they will only help you hear better.

Reading deaf blogs will show you that your beexperiences are common to others with a hearing loss. But do not just read information online – meet deaf and hard of hearing people off-line in safe settings. Here are some suggestions:

Make sure that you begin interacting with people who also have hearing loss. Do not isolate yourself. Your friendships with deaf and hard of hearing people will become very valuable as you accept your silence. In time, you will discover that life can be just as enjoyable as before.