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What's Up Magazine

The Art of Listening Made Easier: When to tell if you need a hearing test

Mar 02, 2015 12:05PM ● By Cate Reynolds
As all those baby boomers (folks born between 1946 and 1964) inch closer and closer to serious senior citizenship, certain health concerns start to take center stage. Hearing, for one, becomes a major issue. Loss of hearing can further isolate older people and deprive them of things they enjoy such as music, TV, and conversation. But it isn’t just an aging topic. Nearly everyone experiences trouble hearing from time to time. Common causes, according to Harvard Medical School physicians, include a buildup of earwax or fluid in the ear, ear infections, or the change in air pressure when taking off or landing in an airplane.

While a mild degree of hearing loss is inevitable, if you think you may need a hearing checkup, you probably do. But how do you know if you need a hearing test? If you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, talk with your doctor about having your hearing tested.

  • Are you always turning up the volume on your TV or radio?
  • Do you shy away from social situations or meeting new people because you’re worried about understanding them?
  • Do you get confused or feel “out of it” at restaurants or dinner parties?
  • Do you ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Do you miss telephone calls—or have trouble hearing on the phone when you do pick up the receiver?
  • Do the people in your world complain that you never listen to them (even when you’re really trying?)

What does a hearing test involve? First, it starts with a discussion of your medical history and an examination of your ears, nose, and throat, followed by a few simple office hearing tests. An audiogram is the next step.

For an audiogram, you sit in a soundproof booth wearing earphones that allow each ear to be tested separately. A series of tones at various frequencies is piped into your ear. An audiologist will ask you to indicate the softest tone you can hear in the low-, mid-, and high-frequency ranges.

The audiologist will also play tape-recorded words at various volumes to find your speech reception threshold, or the lowest dB level at which you can hear and repeat half the words. Finally, you’ll be tested with a series of similar sounding words to evaluate your speech discrimination.

The results of all this may put your mind at ease. Or it may raise the possibility of needing a hearing aid. That should put your mind at ease as well. Wonders are being worked in the field of enhanced hearing—the fact that something can be done to improve your situation should be celebrated. —S.H.