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Note from Dr. Tammy: Thanks to everyone for the comments and questions you sent in with last week’s blog. I wanted to take more time this week to cover more basics of hearing tests, hearing aids, and hearing loss.  While writing this week’s blog I was reminded of a quote I used to have hanging on my office wall:

It is far better to look old and wise wearing a hearing aid than to look old and clueless because you cannot hear.


Q:  I am 55 y/o. Aren’t I too young to get hearing aids? – Jeron F.

A:  Not at all!

17% of all Americans report some issue with their hearing. That’s over 36 MILLION people!  And they are of all ages, backgrounds, and sexes. Only 1 out of every 5 people who could benefit from hearing aids wears them. And we know that it takes people, on average, 7 years to get a hearing aid after they are told they need aids.

As always, the first step is to get your hearing tested. Hearing aids have come a long way in the past few years. They are very small, discrete, and lightweight. With all the earpieces people wear with their phones who can tell the difference anyway?!


Q: I just had my hearing tested. What do all the Xs and Os mean? And what do the numbers mean? – Lindsay M.

A: A typical hearing test performed by an audiologist/hearing aid dispenser will have a graph with loudness and frequency plotted out. The X (left ear) and O (right ear) will be marked at the level at which you can just barely hear the sound at that particular pitch. In general, the following guidelines are used for classifying hearing loss:

0-20dB:                Normal hearing

20-40dB:              Mild hearing loss

40-60dB:              Moderate hearing loss

60-80dB:              Severe hearing loss

80-100dB:            Profound hearing loss

You may also see the following:

Speech discrimination: This is expressed as a percentage correct. During your hearing test, you are read a list of words at a comfortable volume to determine how well your ear and brain can process speech.

Tympanometry: This is expressed either in a graph (that may look like a teepee) or a series of numbers.  Tympanometry is when pressure is put into your ear canal to help determine how well your middle ear is functioning.

Speech Recognition Threshold: This is expressed as a volume level in decibels. This is the lowest volume at which you can understand a two-syllable word.

The hearing test is beneficial to the audiologist as it tells us the type of hearing loss, the degree of hearing loss and it also tells us whether or not you are a hearing aid candidate.

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Q: I was told I have high-frequency hearing loss. What does that mean?  – Sandra K.

A: High-frequency hearing loss is the most common kind of hearing loss. Due to the shape of the cochlea (the organ for hearing) the hair cells that allow you to hear the high frequencies take the most abuse. High-frequency hearing loss is most commonly caused by the aging process and by noise exposure.

And here’s the bad news. . .the high frequencies are where most of our consonants are located. Consonants are what give us the beauty and clarity of speech.

Think of this: If you see a sign for ‘TCKTS’ you can figure out that it is a sign for ‘TICKETS’ even though the vowels are missing. Now, let’s do it in reverse. If you see a sign for ‘IE’ it’s not so easy to figure out. In essence, this is what happens when your ears don’t pick up those high-frequency consonants.

But, don’t worry – Because this is the most common type of hearing loss, hearing aids can almost always help!

by Tammy Flodmand