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Ask the Audiologist: Hearing Tests, Hearing Loss and Hearing Aid Candidacy

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In this weekly column, Audicus audiologist Dr. Tammy Flodmand will answer questions submitted online about anything hearing aid related. Read on and submit questions to contact@audicus.com.

Note From Tammy on Hearing Aids and Hearing Loss:

There is a tremendous amount of information out there about hearing aids and hearing loss. It can be overwhelming at times to figure out what to believe. I am starting this column to help you all to muddle through the information out there.

I see many recurring themes in the clinic… wives telling their husbands they aren’t listening, husbands upset that their wives mumble, kids frustrated with their parents. Many times the frustration level is considerable by the time people get to their audiologist for a hearing test. Hearing tests are quick and easy and will give you a good starting point.

Starting Point with Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids

Q:  I am forever yelling at my husband and repeating myself. It’s so frustrating! I know he has hearing loss but we don’t even know where to start! HELP!   ~Sarah in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

A:  The first thing to do if you have any concerns about your hearing is to have it tested. Sometimes hearing loss is just due to wax build-up. Other times though it is something more permanent that can only be helped with hearing aids. Once your hearing is tested you will be told if you are a candidate for hearing aids.

High Frequency Hearing Loss and Understanding in Background Noise

Q:   When we go to dinner with our best friends I just smile and nod my head because I can’t hear any of the conversation. The other day I inappropriately answered the waitress because I didn’t know what she asked. . . everyone had a good laugh but I was embarrassed. I hear some people just fine though. What is going on?   ~Lowell in Bloomington, Indiana

A:  It sounds like you might have high-frequency hearing loss. High frequency hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss where you lose your high pitches first (think of women’s voices, alarms, bells, flutes, etc.) Unfortunately, many of the speech sounds that provide the beauty and clarity of speech fall in this high frequency range making speech understanding very difficult especially in the presence of background noise.  In a quiet environment we are able to use our eyes (lip reading) to assist with hearing. However, when there is background noise present it is much more difficult even with the facial cues. You should definitely have your hearing tested to see where you stand and to see if hearing aids would be of benefit to you!

Understanding Speech with Hearing Loss

Q:  Everyone around me mumbles. My children keep telling me that I need hearing aids but I just need them and the grandkids to speak more clearly. Can you tell them it’s not me? ~ Edward in San Luis Obispo, California

A:  Sorry to break it to you, Edward, but it just might be you! Feeling like everyone around you is mumbling is one of the first signs of hearing loss. When your ears are unable to pick up on certain speech sounds your brain will try to fill in the blanks, so to speak. If your brain gets it correct then you are good to go but if your brain fills in the blank with the wrong speech sound you will hear the wrong word (wife instead of life, made instead of aid, etc) OR you will hear what sounds like mumbling. The only way to really know is to get you hearing tested.  That will tell you if it is them or if it is your hearing and then recommendations can be made!

Have a question? Email Dr. Flodmand at contact@audicus.com!

by Tammy Flodmand

18 responses to “Ask the Audiologist: Hearing Tests, Hearing Loss and Hearing Aid Candidacy

  1. @Kate: The shape of the hearing loss is not as important as the severity. Most cookie bite hearing losses can still choose to wear any style of hearing aid.

  2. Yesterday I was exposed to a firecracker explosion that was part of a play in an indoor theater. Unfortunately, I was only on the third row from the stage when they set the firecracker off (I would say I was probably about 15 feet away and at eye level to the explosion). It was very loud and they had placed some kind of metal bowl with holes in it over it when it went off. Still it was very loud. It blew the pan with the holes in it upward when the firecracker went off, but plenty of sound escaped. I am concerned I might have gotten permanent hearing damage. Other than the discomfort of hearing the blast, I did not notice any significant ringing in my ear afterward nor did I have a problem understanding words spoken in the play. Is it possible that I incurred any permanent hearing damage or could I have somehow escaped unscathed? It was a very small theater that was designed to enhance sound which has me even more worried about what decibel level I might have been exposed to at such short range with no ear protection. Thanks for your help.

  3. @Thomas It sounds like you experienced something called a Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) that occurs when you are exposed to a loud sound. The ringing and discomfort is a sign that your ears were damaged. Hopefully, this is not permanent. I would recommend that you get a hearing test soon to document and then every 1-2 years after that.

  4. Hi: I know I need hearing assistance. Is there any point to having only one hearing aid? The cost is prohibitive for me to have two.
    Thanks

  5. Where should one look for a reliably professional hearing test? And at the conclusion does one get help in being directed to the most likely design to address your specific needs?

  6. Thanks for all the comments! Watch for upcoming blog posts that tackle these great questions in more detail!

    @JD: Deafness is defined differently by different people. For many it means a complete lack of any hearing stimulation. If hearing is so poor that it can’t be helped with hearing aids then we recommend a cochlear implant.

    @william: I always say, “Two is better than one but one is better than none!” Significant research shows that people with two aids do much better in a variety of situations.

    @johnl: check out the link in the article for where to get your hearing tested. You can never go wrong with an ENT office. As long as your hearing loss is not considered severe to profound you can have any style of hearing aid

  7. Why should I have to reply to Williams question when I am NOT a hearing doctor? I am still waiting to hear the answer to his question! Does one hearing aid help if you cannot afford 2 of them? I have the same question and can only afford one cheap one!

  8. Bruce ():
    I have experienced failures with several popular brands of digital hearing aids in only 4 to 5 months. I store them in the box that came with them at room temperature at normal humidity. A friend of mine has had similar experiences. In contrast my old analog hearing aid was repaired once in 20 years and still works. Some folks are paying close to $3000 for each digital aid- they should function a lot longer than they do without problems.

    Short term operational life of digital aids may also be a reason why some folks toss them in a drawer and forget about them.

    I think Audicus should solicit comments from all the manufacturers about this problem.

  9. I have experienced failures with several popular brands of digital hearing aids in only 4 to 5 months. I store them in the box that came with them at room temperature at normal humidity. A friend of mine has had similar experiences. In contrast my old analog hearing aid was repaired once in 20 years and still works. Some folks are paying close to $3000 for each digital aid- they should function a lot longer than they do without problems.

    Short term operational life of digital aids may also be a reason why some folks toss them in a drawer and forget about them.

    I think Audicus should solicit comments from all the manufacturers about this problem.

  10. I’ve been having hearing problems for quite a few years. 3 years ago, I had a hearing test done and bought a pair of hearing aids which cost me a fortune. I was told i do not hear consonants. To cut the story short, I am not very happy with them especially when I am at meetings or in a restaurant. Also have trouble making words out while watching TV.
    A friend told me Audicus could help me. \What is Audicus doing that would be different ?

  11. I am 75 years old. Am unable to hear “Fs”, “Ss’, and “Zs”. I don’t think softness is the problem. Amplification would be too loud. I hear treble much better than bass. Do hearing aids help this situation? Thank you for your reply.
    Samuel

  12. @Annette: As I said to William, two is better than one but one is better than none.

    @Bruce: Moisture has always been the number one enemy of hearing aids. . .they are just miniaturized electronics after all. The manufacturers are always working to improve this. Every new generation of hearing aids has better moisture protection than the one before. The tricky thing is that we must have openings (microphones and battery areas) in the hearing aid to allow sound in but we want to keep the moisture out. Moisture related repairs have dropped significantly in the past five years with all the new advances!

    @Letty: The consonants are what the majority of people have trouble with as they are higher pitched than the vowels. Your hearing aids may simply need to be reprogrammed . . . or the rapid changes in technology could mean that new hearing aids would help you to hear speech better.

  13. @Samuel. All the consonants you are describing are the very highest pitched sounds. You have high frequency hearing loss which is what the majority of people with hearing loss have. When you get hearing aids your specific Xs and Os from your hearing test are programmed into the aids so that they are amplifying only where you need it. You are in the same boat as a lot of people and hearing aids could absolutely help!

  14. is it considered necessary to wear my hearing aid at all times? I get a headache if I do. I prefer to not wear them when I am alone n my room. My hearing aid specialist tells me I have to teach my brain to accept the hearing aid at all waking hours. He says mustwear them at all times. My problem is only in dining rooms where the outside noises drown out the conversations of my eating companions. Please elaborate on this probem

  15. @Laura I agree with your audiologist. We always encourage people to wear their hearing aids as much as possible for the best performance. If you wear them all the time your brain is better able to adjust to hearing sounds closer to how you should be. If you wear them only occasionally then your brain has to readjust every single time you put them back on.
    Adjusting to hearing aids is a process. . . the more you have them on the better they will work for you and the easier it is for your brain to process all the incoming sounds/speech.

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