Hearing loss is incredibly common and will affect nearly all people, to some extent. In fact, on average, we lose about 0.5 percent of our ability to hear per year. This means that, typically, the average person will only hear about 80 percent as well as they were able to 40 years ago.
Individuals who are experiencing tinnitus, hyperacusis, and other major hearing disorders will likely experience hearing loss at an accelerated rate. Many people don’t even realize they are experiencing hearing loss until they visit an audiologist for some other reason, such as tinnitus. Once they are willing to schedule an appointment, they will quickly discover that comprehensive hearing loss treatment may be necessary.
If you believe that you have experienced a significant degree of hearing loss, the first thing you will need to do is complete a hearing exam. Once the hearing test is complete, you will be able to better quantify your hearing loss and also identify other issues that might be affecting your ability to hear.
In this article, we will discuss how hearing loss is typically tested and measured. By understanding the dynamics of quantifying hearing loss, you can better understand why visiting an audiologist is so important and get the hearing assistance that’s right for you.
What Kinds of Hearing Tests Do Audiologists Administer?
To help you get started, many audiologists will offer online hearing tests that can be completed with headphones at home. However, these tests are usually just the first step to obtaining a proper diagnosis—in order to obtain comprehensive results, you will need to visit an audiologist and complete a hearing test in person.
Your visit to the audiologist will typically begin with a series of questions asking about hearing troubles, your general health, and other related issues you might have. From there, they will likely issue a series of multiple tests before giving a full diagnosis. These hearing exams typically take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
At the beginning of your hearing test, your audiologist will begin by conducting a physical exam of the ears. This will help them identify various “obvious” problems, such as excessive earwax, and, with the use of an instrument known as an otoscope, they will be able to look for physical damage in both the middle and the inner ear.
From there, your audiologist will administer a pure-tone test which will help them recognize the frequencies of sound you are capable of hearing. They will also test to see which volumes of sound you are capable of hearing. Your ability to recognize various frequencies and volumes will be graphed on a chart called an audiogram. This graph helps your audiologist illustrate the type, pattern, and degree of hearing loss. Effectively, it allows them to discover how you hear on the broader “hearing spectrum.”
Your audiologist might complete other additional hearing tests. Speech testing, for example, determines both the level at which you can detect speech and also how well you can understand speech.” Naturally, speech and hearing are highly connected processes. For example, it is common for patients to state they “can hear well but experience trouble understanding some speech”. Once all of these tests and questions are complete, the audiologist will have a thorough understanding of your current hearing status, can provide connections to your test results, and the symptoms you are experiencing, and will then be able to recommend the appropriate treatments.
What are the Common Causes of Hearing Problems?
Hearing loss is strongly correlated with age, meaning that experiencing impaired hearing is often just a matter of time. Additionally, exposure to loud sounds—whether at one single event like a concert or gradually over time—significantly contributes to hearing impairments. To preemptively protect your ability to hear, it is recommended that people wear filtered earplugs during loud events. “Loud events” include working in noisy occupations, attending concerts, loud movies, and even some restaurants that can exceed your daily sound dose.
Hearing difficulties can also be triggered by an incredibly wide range of broader health issues including heart problems, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and smoking. Generally, anything that is objectively bad for your health could potentially impact your hearing, though the exact causal link between some conditions and hearing loss isn’t always clear. If you have recently been diagnosed with a medical condition, pay close attention to see if your hearing changes over time.
Hearing troubles can also be caused by excessive amounts of cerumen (earwax), which can be effectively resolved with careful cleaning. In order to avoid damage to the ear, it is usually best to have excessive amounts of earwax, or other forms of blockage, removed by a professional, rather than using Q-tips.
Tinnitus is a symptom that is distinctive from traditional hearing loss but can still impact your overall ability to hear. Most individuals who have tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss, even if they are not experiencing communication difficulties. Fortunately, once tinnitus and any underlying hearing loss are effectively managed, individuals report improved hearing abilities and quality of life.
What are the Best Treatments for Hearing Loss?
Hearing tests and questionnaires are important because they help your audiologist understand your hearing loss and identify the underlying causes. Only by knowing the severity of your hearing loss, the reason(s) you are having trouble hearing, and other relevant factors will the audiologist be able to prescribe an appropriate combination of treatments.
Currently, there are many different treatments your audiologist might recommend. If you are currently suffering from tinnitus, then Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) can help you regain your ability to hear without any ringing or buzzing. Additionally, sound therapy can be used to help address tinnitus and other long-term hearing issues. In some cases, hearing aids will be recommended, especially if your hearing loss is age-related and difficult to reverse. In the most severe cases, cochlear implants may be needed.
Conclusion – Hearing Loss Testing
If you are currently above the age of 45, then it is recommended that you visit an audiologist at least once every five years. If you are under the age of 45 but are currently experiencing tinnitus or other hearing challenges, a visit to an audiologist may also be appropriate. After issuing a series of hearing tests, your audiologist will be able to identify all underlying issues and recommend a course of treatment that is appropriate for you.