Healthy hearing is important for a healthy life. But hearing loss can affect anyone at any age, with symptoms that can develop gradually over time. A hearing exam can determine whether you’re experiencing any kind of problems with your hearing. And now, you can get a hearing exam right in the doctor’s office, with new technology that allows our doctors to quickly and thoroughly assess the state of your hearing.
Hearing Problems Have Many Causes
Hearing is a complex and delicate process that involves not just the various parts of the ear itself but also pathways in the brain, and problems with any of these can lead to hearing loss. Common causes of hearing problems include:
- Blockage due to colds and seasonal allergies
- Fluid buildup in the inner ear
- Abnormalities in the eardrum or other parts of the ear
- Damage due to repeated noise exposure
- Reactions to some medications
- Trauma to the head or ears
Symptoms of hearing loss include difficulty with understanding speech, problems with hearing sounds in certain frequencies, trouble hearing on the phone, and problems with distinguishing sounds from background noise. Because these symptoms can have multiple causes, a hearing screening can be the first step in diagnosing the cause of a hearing problem.
What Happens At a Hearing Exam?
Hearing exams for adults and children can take place in many settings, including community health fairs and school clinics. Exams are also done in the hospital to assess the hearing of newborns.
Some health professionals and hearing impairment advocates make a distinction between a screening, which simply identifies the presence of a hearing problem, and a hearing evaluation, which can follow a screening in order to precisely identify the causes of hearing problem. In any setting, though, a number of different tests can be used to evaluate whether someone has hearing loss, and if so, to determine the exact cause.
Diagnosing Hearing Loss
Hearing screening and diagnostic tests are painless and many require nothing more than sitting quietly while an instrument is placed in the ear. Simple tests used to check basic hearing functions can be performed by professionals such as community health nurses or school nurses. This kind of screening often uses pure-tone tests, in which a person is asked to wear headphones and to signal when a given sound is heard.
Community hearing screenings can also use speech recognition tests, which check whether someone can hear words clearly at different volumes and frequencies. These tests are typically “pass/fail” – a person passes if there is no problem with hearing everything in the test, or “fails” if they can’t hear some of the sounds or words. In that case, a referral might be made for further testing.
To get a detailed picture of a person’s hearing loss and pinpoint the cause, more sophisticated tests can be performed with the aid of audiometers, instruments which can measure such things as the sound made by the movement of tiny hairs in the inner ear and the strength of muscle reflexes that are triggered when a loud sound is heard. It’s even possible to use electrodes to track brain activity while a person is exposed to certain sounds in order to determine whether a hearing problem is related to the brain’s hearing pathways.
If you’re concerned about your hearing, our certified primary care doctors can perform a thorough hearing screening right in our offices with the aid of sophisticated audiometer technology. This system allows us to establish a baseline measure and determine whether it’s appropriate to make a referral to our audiologist. At Medical Offices of Manhattan, our doctors will work with you to keep your hearing healthy for a lifetime.