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Ask the Audiologist: Hearing Tests, Hearing Aids and Misconceptions

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Note from Dr. Tammy: Thanks 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.

HEARING AID CANDIDACY

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 reports 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?!

HEARING TESTS & HEARING AID CANDIDACY

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.

HIGH FREQUENCY HEARING LOSS AND HEARING AIDS

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 to 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

4 responses to “Ask the Audiologist: Hearing Tests, Hearing Aids and Misconceptions

  1. At what point on the hearing test are you conceded deaf. I have hearing loss at all frequencies. I’ve had aids for 3 years and I’m looking to replace them as in meetings I’m not hearing everyone when they speak. I also have to have the TV turned up very high to hear it.

  2. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that people of all ages need hearing aids. I’m in my mid forties, and I’m experiencing hearing loss, but I’ve been afraid to get hearing aids, because I thought I was too young. This is a comfort to me, and I’ll definitely look into getting some soon. Thanks for the great post!

  3. You mentioned that 17% of all Americans reports some issue with their hearing which is over 36 million people. Are most people fitted with specific kinds of hearing aids? My mother has been having a lot of problems hearing since her 75th birthday last week. Going to see an experienced audiologist might be a good option. http://www.centralbuckshearing.com

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