Hearing loss is detrimental to both physical and emotional wellbeing. Untreated hearing loss has been shown to cause anxiety, difficulty working, paranoia, depression and more. Knowing what questions to ask your audiologist can seem overwhelming when you are already dealing with the frustration of a hearing loss diagnosis. Here are some of the most common questions asked during a visit to an audiologist.
Diagnosing hearing loss may start with your primary healthcare provider, who will perform a physical exam by looking into your ear. Your provider will look for possible causes, such as signs of an infection or ear wax buildup, and also any structural causes.
General screening tests and simple tuning fork tests may be performed. A tuning fork is a two-pronged, metal instrument that produces sound when struck. This test may indicate whether hearing loss is caused by damage to the vibrating parts of your middle ear and eardrum, or damage to inner ear nerves, or damage to both. Your provider may refer you to an audiologist who will perform more thorough testing.
Audiologists are licensed, doctorate-level health care professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat and manage hearing loss and balance disorders in both adults and children. Audiologists can determine the type of your hearing loss and the degree.
The audiologist can describe the test results to you and help you consider if a hearing amplification device, such as a hearing aid, is needed. Some audiologists also may sell and offer hearing aid fitting services right in the office.
Your audiologist will determine this based on your test results, type of hearing loss and whether hearing aids are needed. The amount of testing varies by patient.
Knowing the type of hearing loss helps determine which treatment you need, as well as how to protect your hearing going forward. There are three main types of hearing loss:
The results from your hearing test are displayed on an audiogram, which is a graph that shows the softest sounds a person can hear at different pitches or frequencies, which is measured in decibels (dBs). Audiologists use general terms (normal, mild, moderate, severe and profound) to classify the degree of hearing loss. The audiogram indicates these different degrees of hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss, which is due to aging and noise exposure, is generally permanent because the small hair cells in the inner ear are damaged and there is no way to repair them. This type of hearing loss is the most common type. Some permanent hearing loss may be congenital (present at birth) or due to damage caused by infection.
Although some people are born with hearing loss, most people experience progressive permanent hearing loss later in life due to aging and daily noise exposure (sensorineural hearing loss). Other common causes of acquired hearing loss include genetic predisposition, ear infections (scarring), ototoxic medicines, head trauma and more.
The aging process and noise exposure can make hearing loss worse; however, there are simple preventive measures you can take to guard your hearing. Your audiologist will discuss your specific situation with you and provide you with additional information. Annual testing may be recommended to monitor trends and estimate whether your loss will worsen over time.
Generally, hearing tends to worsen to the same degree in both ears over time. However, just like your right eye might have a different prescription than your left, the same principle applies to hearing loss. One ear might have slightly more hearing loss than the other and hearing aid prescriptions are designed to balance out your ears. In the case of a larger difference between the ears, follow up with an ear surgeon (ENT) may be recommended to address the cause of this difference. Should you notice a sudden decrease in hearing in one ear, contact your audiologist or ENT immediately.
Amplification is generally recommended in situations where your hearing loss is affecting your ability to understand speech. This can be a difficult thing to monitor in your own life, as commonly, people tend to lose the ability to hear some sounds (i.e. consonant sounds in speech) while retaining others (i.e. vowel sounds). This situation will cause you to ask people to repeat what they said, not because you couldn’t hear them, but because they didn’t sound clear. Other people will begin to notice difficulty following conversations in situations with background noise. These situations occur in restaurants, meetings, and even while watching television when there is music or noise behind the dialogue. Your audiologist will discuss your test results with you and advise you whether it is time to consider hearing aids.
Hearing tends to decrease rather symmetrically, but you may experience hearing loss in only one ear or have an ear that can no longer benefit from amplification. In these cases, a hearing aid may not be required for both ears. However, according to the Better Hearing Institute, about 90 percent of patients do need hearing aids for both ears, so it is still more likely you will need both. We do understand that hearing aids can be expensive, and if your budget doesn’t allow for a pair, one hearing aid is always better than nothing. However, two less expensive devices commonly work better than one expensive one for a symmetrical hearing loss.
The more information you can provide your audiologist about your lifestyle, the better they can help you choose the right kind of aid that fits both your type of hearing loss and your daily activities. You may want to share information about your daily, weekly, and monthly activities, including recreational and social habits, and your work environment when making the determination. Don’t be shy! Let the audiologist know what your’re looking for. Generally, if you try something that doesn’t work at first, you can exchange them within the trial period and try something else.
The cost of hearing aids range widely. Note that your hearing aid cost may cover much more than the devices themselves, such as your hearing test, consultation, fitting, follow-up visits and adjustments, cleanings and a warranty. The main factor is the sophisticated level of technology and the features. Ask about all the available options as the prices will differ and you may not want or need all the features included with a more expensive model.
Unless you’re purchasing aids online, at least some degree of follow-up care is included in the cost of your hearing aid purchase. Some audiologists bundle the cost of adjustments, repairs and batteries into the upfront cost of the hearing aids. Others have you pay for the devices alone and charge you for fitting, follow up, parts and batteries as you need them. Still others will offer more of a hybrid approach that allows you to choose which system works better for your budget. This is a good question to ask up front as it may impact your choice of hearing center or provider.
Not all insurance plans cover the cost of hearing aids. You may wish to inquire about this with your insurance company up front, so you can discuss other payment options with your provider if insurance is not an option.
Hearing aids will eventually wear out. Your audiologist cannot predict when this might happen, but they may be able to give you a good estimate. This can help spur conversation on how you need to best care for your hearing aids to make them last as long as possible.
Different manufacturers offer different warranties. Depending on the warranty, you may wish to purchase additional insurance or call your insurance company to be sure they are covered from loss or theft on your home owner’s policy.
A few follow-ups are needed to adjust your hearing aids to best tailor them to your needs. Each hearing center and each case will be different based on the patient. Make sure that your chosen audiologist will take the time to ensure proper fitting within the first weeks after you receive the devices and make sure they are there for you over time as cleaning and ongoing care is needed.
For more information on hearing aids, contact Sound Answers and Hearing & Speech today.