Hearing loss can be caused by the aging process, exposure to loud noise, certain medications, infections, head or ear trauma, congenital (at birth) or genetic factors, diseases, as well as a number of other causes. Recent data suggests there are over 34 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss often occurs gradually throughout a lifetime. People with hearing loss compensate often without knowing they have hearing loss.
You may have a hearing loss if:
- You hear people speaking, but you have to strain to understand their words.
- You frequently ask people to repeat what they said.
- You don’t laugh at jokes because you miss too much of the story or the punch line.
- You frequently complain that people mumble.
- You need to ask others about the details of a meeting you just attended.
- You play the TV or radio louder than your friends, spouse and relatives.
- You cannot hear the doorbell or the telephone.
- You find that looking at people when they speak to you makes it easier to understand.
- You miss environmental sounds such as birds or leaves blowing.
- You find yourself avoiding certain restaurants because they are too noisy, or certain people because you cannot understand them.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a licensed audiologist to have a formal hearing evaluation. This hearing test, or audiologic evaluation, is more than just pressing a button when you hear a beep! Rather, an audiologic evaluation allows the hearing healthcare professional to determine the type, nature and degree of your hearing loss. In addition, your sensitivity, acuity and accuracy to speech understanding will be assessed. The audiologist may also test for speech understanding at different volume levels and in different simulated environments to help determine if you’re a candidate for amplification.
The hearing evaluation should also include a thorough case history (interview), as well as a visual inspection of the ear canal and eardrum. Additional tests of the middle ear function may also be performed. The results of the evaluation can be useful to a physician, if the audiologist believes your hearing loss may benefit from medical intervention.
Results of the hearing evaluation are plotted on a graph called an audiogram. The audiogram provides a visual view of your hearing test results across various pitches or frequencies, especially the ones necessary for understanding speech (250-8000 Hz). The audiogram and results from your speech understanding tests are used to create a prescription and to program the hearing aids, when so indicated.