Hearing loss affects an estimated 29 million people in the United States. We recommend that everyone have periodic hearing tests. The hearing exam process varies slightly depending on the age of the patient.
- In all cases, it is important to get a complete medical history as it relates to the ears.
- Is the hearing difficulty gradual or sudden?
- Do you have difficulty in one or both ears?
- Do you have tinnitus, vertigo, ear infections, or draining ears?
- What types of medication are you on?
- Do you have any other medical conditions: diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure?
- Have you worked around noise or do you shoot firearms?
- The next step would be to look in the ear canal to determine if there is any blockage that would interfere with the hearing test.
- Tympanometry and acoustic reflexes. Tympanometry measures the pressure behind the ear drum and lets us know how well the ear drum is functioning. Acoustic reflexes are used as a screening test for the nerves that serve the ear and the face.
- Tone Testing. Patients are asked to respond when they hear sounds in each ear at a very soft level. The purpose is to find out how soft an individual can hear over a wide range of different sounds. This testing may be done with two types of head phones; one for air conduction and one for bone conduction. We hear both through the ear canal and through the vibration of the skull. Comparing these two pathways determines the type of hearing difficulty.
- Speech testing. Most people report that they can hear, but not understand. Speech testing can give use an idea if this is true. Patients are asked to repeat words so that we can assess their ability to hear clearly.