Ask Your Hearing Health Professional – Part I
Have you ever wondered if you should have your hearing checked? Do you know how hearing healthcare professionals – such as audiologists, dispensers or ENT specialists – check your ears and evaluate your hearing health? What can you ask these specialists, or more importantly: what SHOULD you ask them?
These are only a few of the questions that may creep into someone’s mind when they have come to the realization that their hearing has perhaps deteriorated to a point that’s concerning to them. Of course, we all tend to avoid thinking about uncomfortable items like this, it’s human nature. The reality is you might be surprised by how easy and convenient it can be to have your hearing health evaluated by a local licensed professional. That’s just one more reason not to wait.
At Eargo, we’re quite lucky to partner with many experienced licensed hearing health professionals nationwide. Our hearing health professionals help with many things, including the critical function of training new Eargo users on how to adapt to using a hearing aid (it ain’t always a cakewalk). In fact, that’s why we call them our personal hearing professionals. Fortunately, we were able to pry Manny Ocano (BS-HIS, ACA), Director of Clinical Support at Eargo, away from helping patients for a brief while to probe him on the questions he often gets from people who are concerned about their hearing health.
1- What is a hearing health professional? What does your work entail?
I’m a hearing health professional. In my practice, my day-to-day would normally consist of meeting with patients to help with a variety of things related to hearing health, such as:
- Evaluating someone’s level of hearing loss;
- Evaluating a patient’s hearing lifestyle;
- Making sure that someone’s hearing devices fit their lifestyle well.
It’s important to know that hearing health professionals do NOT CURE hearing loss (except for some cases i.e. hearing loss due to ear wax blockage).
2- What should visitors know about their first visit to a hearing health professional?
When visiting a licensed hearing health professional, you should expect to learn quite a bit about your current hearing health, including:
- Whether or not you have hearing loss.
- If you have hearing loss, they’ll help assess the level of loss –for example from mild to moderate, or more severe to profound hearing loss.
- They can also help gauge if your hearing loss is in the low or high frequencies of sound.
- They can also help you understand what type of hearing loss you may have. If the type of hearing loss is considered medically treatable, a licensed professional will refer you to an ENT specialist to be further diagnosed to determine whether something can be done medically, or if a hearing device is the right path for you.
- All of these points are important in determining what type of hearing instrument will work.
You can understand what type of hearing loss you have (if any) on your very first visit to an HHP.
3- What is an audiogram? What is it for?
When you come in for a hearing evaluation, you should receive a number of tests. One of the hearing tests involves presenting pure tones while you’re wearing headphones or have inserts placed in the ear. The pure tone test is basically when we [hearing health professionals] put a tone in someone’s ear, and it goes through the hearing process, through the auditory system to the brain, eventually registering in the brain as a sound that is “heard”. The patient will then press a button every time they hear the tone across the different frequencies to know what is the softest level tone that the patient can hear. And that’s what gets recorded in an audiogram.
There is another test called bone conduction. A device is placed on the mastoid bone behind the ear that produces a tone directly to the cochlea and bypasses the outer and middle ear so that we will then compare the two results to determine if there is a problem in the outer middle ear or if it’s truly in the cochlea which cannot be medically corrected.
Below, you can see a sample audiogram for illustrative purposes (may be missing some info):
Your audiogram gives information to determine what’s the best way to help your hearing (sometimes it could help hearing health professionals identify the best hearing aid for you if needed).
4- How painful is it to have my ears checked?
There should be no pain involved in the hearing evaluation determining the hearing level and visually inspecting the ear canal. If there is a wax build up and needs removal, your hearing health professional will guide you how to best get this done, whether on your own or professionally done.
5- How often should I have my hearing checked?
We recommend that you check your hearing starting around the age of 55. Of course, checking your hearing at a younger age could always help track your hearing health better, but 55 is the number that you don’t want to pass without ever visiting a hearing health professional. And then it depends, if at 55 your hearing is in the normal range, then it may not be as critical to test it every year. You may want to test it every other year in that case. If it’s in a borderline range and there’s no plan to treat with amplification, we may want to check it every year. However, if you feel there’s been any change in your hearing in a short amount of time, for example within 3 months, then you should definitely get an evaluation at that point. If you have any sudden changes, you should seek assistance immediately.
Checking your hearing at any age is always good. But never pass the age 55 without ever checking your hearing. Also, visit a hearing health professional immediately if you feel your hearing has been diminished in a short amount of time.
6- What are your top tips to maintain your hearing health?
There’s really no silver bullet when it comes to maintaining hearing health. But you can always say “better safe than sorry”:
When you are in a loud environment, especially if exposed to one over a period of time, you will start damaging your hearing within half an hour of exposure if not wearing hearing protection. So my first advice is to wear hearing protection whenever you know you will be exposed to loud noises. Also, consider wearing them even if the environment doesn’t feel too loud but you are going to be exposed to it for a couple of hours. For example, mowing the lawn with a power mower and using a power weed whacker can be loud enough to damage hearing if not protected. I know a lot of people want to associate loud music to hearing loss and it’s true if we are exposed to loud music for a long period or exposed every day. Don’t ignore even that one loud concert.
Long exposure to noisy environments is one of the causes of hearing loss that happens to many people without them noticing it most of the time.
So if you’re in a noisy environment, you’ll want to wear hearing protection.
Hearing protection is a good way to maintain hearing health.
The other way to maintain your hearing health is to realize when there’s a change in your hearing and to seek help when you sense that. So many times people will not really detect that they have any hearing loss or anything that has really changed, and they let that go on for years as most of us will lose our hearing gradually over many years and we don’t do anything about it.
The sooner that you seek help with your hearing loss, the better your chances of maintaining the hearing you have.