Help—I Think I Suffer from Hearing Loss
I think I have some hearing loss…where should I go for help?
If you suspect some difficulties with your hearing, the decrease in hearing sensitivity is likely a slow progression over time. You may be noticing some difficulties with understanding others in noisy situations, or you may struggle to understand your loved ones if they speak from a different room. You may also have trouble comprehending others on the telephone and may not be able to understand television shows or movies. You may feel like you can still “hear”, but that the crispness and clarity is gone, which makes misunderstandings quite common.
This type of hearing loss is known as progressive loss, which means it has gradually worsened over time. It is common in people who have been exposed to high noise levels throughout their lifetime (i.e. veterans, gun enthusiasts, industrial workers, those in construction/carpentry, musicians etc). These people don’t realize that the many years they were exposed to extreme noise levels have slowly affected and damaged the fragile hair cells in the inner ears. It is such a slow progression that they typically don’t even realize how bad their hearing has become, or how much they are struggling. Usually, it is their loved ones who notice it first and foremost, and they are the ones who encourage the person to seek help.
If you have acknowledged and accepted the fact that you may indeed have some hearing loss, you may not know where to go for proper help. You may get a free hearing screening at a retail shop or strip mall location, but this only tells you that you have failed a simple screening. This is not a thorough examination and cannot tell you the type and degree of your hearing loss. The best place to go for a full evaluation is an audiologist’s office, preferably a doctor of audiology (Au.D.) as he/she will have the most education and training. Many times, a medical evaluation by an otolaryngologist (ENT — Ear Nose Throat doctor) or Neuro-otologist is warranted, so it is often handy to find an office that already has both an audiologist and an otolaryngologist/neuro-otologist in the same setting. This saves you the trip of going to two different offices, and it assures that you have been completely and fully evaluated by both types of hearing experts. Going to a combined office may also help you to get better insurance coverage for the testing.
The best advice is to search your insurance company’s database for otolaryngologists, neuro-otologists, and audiologists (Au.D. — doctor of audiology). Make some phone calls and try to find an office that has both a medical doctor and an audiology doctor in the same office. Explain to the office staff that you would like a medical evaluation as well as full diagnostic testing by an audiologist. The audiologist will also be able to discuss treatment options with you, which will vary depending on the type and degree of hearing loss that you have. There is no “one” best treatment for everyone. Hearing loss is very subjective and there are no two sets of ears that are exactly the same. Even if two people do have very similar hearing losses, they may still have varying perceptions of how they hear and in the difficulties they encounter. Just remember, we hear with our brains…just like we process all of your senses. So, each person’s perception will be different depending on how his/her brain processes the incoming signal.
Lastly, and very importantly, if by chance you have a “sudden” hearing loss (i.e. you wake up one morning and can’t hear or something similar), or if you have one ear that hears very differently than the other, then you absolutely NEED to call an otolaryngologist or neuro-otologist immediately! These are major red flags and can indicate very serious problems, perhaps even a tumor. The sooner you seek help, the better the outcome. Don’t delay.
Bert Brown - About Author:
Dr. Bert Brown has been a practicing ENT physician for over 25 years – devoting his career to helping people with hearing challenges. His expert understanding of the hearing process led to his development of the SER™ Fitting Room, which simulates the real world and allows the patient to experience their improved hearing with their hearing aids as a whole body experience – customizing them to their individual needs.
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