Are you one of the millions of people who does not hear as well as they once did? If so, you are certainly not alone. In fact, the latest available statistics show that over 20% of the U.S. population reports difficulty hearing! In addition, studies have linked untreated hearing loss to emotional, physical, mental, psychological and even economic disadvantages! And, to make matters even worse, there are many “myths” about hearing loss that prevent those with hearing loss from doing anything about it.
One of the most common “myths” about hearing loss is that only “old people” suffer from it! In fact, the reverse is true! The majority (65%) of people with hearing loss are younger than 65 and six million people in the U.S. between 18 and 44 suffer from hearing loss.
Four Types of Hearing Loss
Not all hearing loss can be corrected through the use of hearing aids or alternative listening devices. The type of hearing loss determines the specific treatment required. There are four types of hearing loss
What Type of hearing loss do I have?
Hearing loss can be caused by many different causes, some of which can be successfully treated with medicine or surgery, depending on the disease process.
Exposure to noise
Family history of hearing loss
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer ear canal to the eardrum and the tiny bones (ossicles) of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level or the ability to hear faint sounds. This type of hearing loss can often be corrected medically or surgically.
Some possible causes of conductive hearing loss:
- Fluid in the middle ear from colds
- Ear infection (otitis media)
- Allergies (serous otitis media)
- Poor eustachian tube function
- Perforated eardrum
- Benign tumors
- Impacted earwax (cerumen)
- Infection in the ear canal (external otitis)
- Swimmer’s Ear (otitis ecxterna)
- Presence of a foreign body
- Absence or malformation of the outer ear, ear canal, or middle ear
Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL)
Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea), or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Most of the time, SNHL cannot be medically or surgically corrected. This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.
SNHL reduces the ability to hear faint sounds. Even when speech is loud enough to hear, it may still be unclear or sound muffled.
Some possible causes of SNHL:
- Drugs that are toxic to hearing
- Hearing loss that runs in the family (genetic or hereditary)
- Head trauma
- Malformation of the inner ear
- Exposure to loud noise
So What Happens During a Hearing Test Anyway?
When you arrive for your exam, you will be greeted by the front office staff and asked to fill out several forms, including those that record your personal information, medical history and verify your insurance. You will also receive a copy of a Notice of Privacy as mandated by law.
As your exam begins, your hearing care professional will review your personal information with you and will ask you some questions that are designed to discover the specific types of environments in which you may be experiencing some difficulty in hearing.
Next, the hearing care professional may look into your ears by using an otoscope. This instrument is used to see the ear canal and the ear drum and whether or not there is earwax obstructing the canal. Sometimes the hearing care professional will have a video otoscope so you can see inside your ear as well!
The first test that is conducted is the pure tone hearing test. This is conducted in a quiet environment, sometimes in a soundproof booth. The hearing care professional will place headphones that are connected to an audiometer over your ears. The audiometer transmits a series of tones at a variety of volumes into your ears to determine the exact point or “threshold” at which you can hear various frequencies of sounds. When you hear a sound, you will be asked to say “yes” or raise your hand.
Next is speech testing, when you will listen to a series of one and two syllable words at different volumes and be asked to repeat them. This will determine the level at which you can not only detect, but understand speech. Another test that may be conducted is a speech in noise test. This test will determine how well you hear sentences in a noisy environment.
The results of your tests will be recorded on a form called an audiogram, which the hearing care professional will review with you. The audiogram reflects your hearing loss in frequencies and decibels. You will be shown the type, pattern and degree of hearing loss, as well as the percentage of normal conversational speech that you are still able to hear. Your hearing care professional will then relate these results to your concerns about your hearing. The next step is to consider treatment solutions.