What to Expect at Your Hearing Exam

If the unfamiliar creates anxiety, then a visit to the hearing specialist is particularly stressful. While most of us have experience with the family physician and the hometown dentist, the visit to the hearing specialist might be a first.

It sure would be useful to have someone describe the process up front, wouldn’t it? Well, continue reading, because as you’ll see, the process of getting your hearing evaluated is ordinarily simple, comfortable, and pain-free — with portions that can actually be fun.

So here’s how it will go:

As soon as you arrive at the office, you will check in with a staff member at the front desk who will hand you a couple of forms to fill out. Shortly after completing the forms, a hearing specialist will come with you into a room to get started with the hearing assessment, which is composed of four parts:

Part 1: Case History

case history

The hearing specialist starts the process by getting to know you, your medical history, and your hearing loss symptoms. Preparation for this step is crucial, because this is where you get to describe to the hearing specialist the details of your hearing loss, what you will be expecting from treatment, and your personalized hearing needs.

This part is all about you: what do you want to achieve with better hearing? Do you desire to play a music instrument again? Do you desire to be more active in work meetings? Do you desire to be more involved at social gatherings? The more you can convey to your hearing specialist the better.

Next comes the testing.

Part 2: Otoscopy

otoscope

The first diagnostic test to be completed is termed an otoscopy. An otoscope is used to visually explore the ear canal and eardrum to find out if your hearing loss is correlated to infections, earwax buildup, or blockages. If the cause of your hearing loss is something as basic as earwax accumulation, you could most likely start hearing better within moments simply from expert earwax removal.

Part 3: Tympanometry

tympanometry

The following test is known as tympanometry, used to test the eardrum and middle ear. An instrument is placed into the ear that will modify the air pressure, evaluating how your ear reacts to various pressures.

To fully grasp this test, you have to first know that hearing loss falls into one of two broad types:

  1. Sensorineural hearing loss — this is the most widespread hearing loss. It is also identified as noise-induced hearing loss and it involves destruction of the nerve cells of hearing.
  2. Conductive hearing loss — this hearing loss results from blockages or obstructions that limit sound transmission before the sound reaches the nerve cells of hearing.

Tympanometry is a test that can help to rule out conductive hearing loss, to make sure that there are no blockages, infections, or middle-ear-bone problems. Conversely, Audiometry, which is outlined next, will quantify sensorineural hearing loss.

Part 4: Audiometry

audiogram

The concluding group of tests will be completed in a soundproof room. These tests are collectively referred to as audiometry and will measure your hearing range and sensitivity. Audiometry is the best method to measure sensorineural hearing loss.

With the use of an audiometer, the hearing specialist will be able to pinpoint:

  • Which frequencies you can hear comfortably and which you have a tough time with.
  • The minimal decibel levels, at different frequencies, at which you perceive sound.
  • The precise calculations associated with your hearing loss (as captured on an audiogram).
  • Your ability to understand speech, with or without background noise.

The test itself, from your outlook, will be comfortable and uncomplicated. You will be presented with sounds and speech through earphones and will be requested to display when you can hear the sounds by pressing a control or raising your hand.

Reviewing results and planning treatment

Soon after the testing is complete, your hearing specialist will evaluate your results with you. If your hearing loss will require medical or surgical treatment (due to infections or middle-ear-bone problems, for instance), your hearing specialist can make the appropriate referral.

If your hearing loss can benefit from assistive listening devices or hearing aids, your hearing specialist will work with you to select the best solution for you, your budget, your lifestyle, and your cosmetic concerns.

Pretty simple for a lifetime of better hearing, isn’t it?

Exploring a Career in the Hearing Care Profession

While many of us remain up to date with our once-a-year physical, dental cleaning, and eye exam, we typically forget to think about the well-being of our hearing. And when our hearing does start to diminish, it appears so slowly that we scarcely notice and neglect to take action. It’s this lack of interaction with hearing care professionals that makes people wonder what the occupation actually entails.

And that’s a shame, because hearing care professionals serve as an important segment of the healthcare system. It’s through the hearing care professional that the correct performance of one of our principal senses — one for which we have a tendency to take for granted — is preserved or restored.

Seeing that we take hearing for granted, we usually also fail to fully grasp just how essential hearing is. With accurate hearing, we can increase attention, take pleasure in the details of sound, converse better, and strengthen friendships. And the hearing care professionals are the ones who make certain that this vital sense is working properly.

If you’d like to find out more about this important but little-known healthcare field — or if you’re thinking about entering the field yourself — read on.

Attraction to the hearing care field

Hearing care professionals are drawn to the field for various reasons, but a couple different main motivating factors are frequently present. First of all, several practitioners have endured, and continue to suffer with, hearing problems themselves. Because they were themselves helped by a hearing care professional, the urge to repay the favor for other individuals is strong.

For example, Zoe Williams, a hearing care professional in Australia, has moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. This could have led to an inability to communicate, but thanks to cochlear implants and hearing aids, Zoe is presently able to communicate normally. Understanding from experience how improved hearing leads to a better life, Zoe was committed to enter the field and to help others in the same way.

Other individuals are drawn into the hearing care field due to its distinctive mixture of counseling, problem solving, science, and engineering. Alongside learning about the science of hearing and the engineering of hearing technology, practitioners also learn how to work with people in the role of a counselor. Coping with hearing loss is a sensitive matter, and patients present a range of emotions and personalities. Practitioners must be able to utilize the “soft skills” required to manage these problems and must work with patients on a personalized level to conquer hearing loss.

Training and education

Part of the allure of earning a living in the hearing care profession is the compelling mixture of subjects covered as part of the education and training. Those pursuing a career in the field master fascinating topics in a variety of fields such as:

  • Biology – topics include the anatomy and physiology of hearing, balance, the ear, and the brain, in addition to classes in hearing and balance disorders and pharmacology.
  • Physics – topics include the physics of sound, acoustics, and psychoacoustics (how the brain processes sound).
  • Engineering – topics include the creation and functioning of hearing technology such as assistive listening devices, hearing aids, and cochlear implants, as well as the programming of digital hearing aids.
  • Counseling – topics include how to interview patients, how to teach coping skills, and how to train on the use of hearing aids, in addition to other fascinating topics in psychology and counseling.
  • Professional practice – topics include diagnosing hearing problems, carrying out and interpreting hearing tests, implementing hearing treatments, fitting and programming hearing aids, professional ethics, and operating a business.

Job functions

Hearing care professionals work in a diversity of settings (schools, hospitals, private practices) performing various tasks such as research, teaching, and diagnosing and treating hearing and balance conditions.

Typical tasks involve carrying out diagnostic tests, interpreting hearing tests, and working with patients on selecting the most effective hearing treatment, often including the use of hearing aids. Hearing care professionals custom-fit and program hearing aids to best suit the individual and will coach the patient on how to use and maintain them. Hearing care professionals also work with employers and companies to protect against hearing damage in noisy work settings.

Benefits

The benefits mentioned most frequently by individuals in the hearing care profession revolve around the opportunity to favorably impact people’s lives on a very personal level. Long term friendships between patients and hearing specialists are also typical due to the personal nature of care.

When patients announce that they can hear again for the first time in a long time, the emotions can be overwhelming. Patients often describe a sense of reconnection to the world and to family, in addition to improved relationships and an improved overall quality of life.

How many professions can claim that kind of personal impact?

Avoiding the Biggest Mistake in Treating Your Hearing Loss

Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that vowed to deliver instant and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?

Well, you won’t see much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the developers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to return customers a maximum of $87 million as a result of deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1

The issue had to do with making health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific evidence. In fact, strong evidence existed to reveal that the magnetized bracelets had NO influence on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the developer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Ok, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling amazingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the easy response is that we have a strong propensity to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and more convenient.

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that sporting a $50 bracelet will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high-cost medical and surgical procedures.

If, for instance, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which approach seems more attractive?

        a. Booking surgery for a complete knee replacement

        b. Going to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a shot. You already want to believe that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from spotting other people using them.

But it is exactly this natural tendency, combined with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which alternative sounds more attractive?

       a. Scheduling an appointment with a hearing specialist and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 dollars

Much like the magnetic bracelet seems much more appealing than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more desirable than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

But unfortunately, as with the magnetized bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m not implying that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t function.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do deliver results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that capture sound and make it louder. Reviewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — and for that matter, the same is true for the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

But when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:

  1. How well do they function?
  2. For which type of people do they function best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it presented its advice on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As reported by the FDA, hearing aids are defined as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3

Quite the opposite, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Even though the distinction is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and retailers to get around the distinction by simply not mentioning it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This assertion is imprecise enough to skirt the matter entirely without having to define exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices designed for those with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are looking to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to remote conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. Although more expensive, hearing aids have the power and features required to correct hearing loss. The following are some of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have trouble hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t enable you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids have integrated noise reduction and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain numerous features and functions that minimize background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually have any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are generally one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-cost PSAPs; rather, set up an appointment with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will make sure that you receive the best hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this instance you should listen to your better judgment and seek expert assistance. Your hearing is well worth the effort.

Sources

  1. Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
  3. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products

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