People who have trouble hearing or parents of children who exhibit signs of hearing loss may wonder what to do to find out what is going on. While a lot of people associate loss of hearing with older people, sometimes children experience hearing loss because of ear infections, liquid in the ear, and other reasons. No matter what the age, when a person can’t hear very well, or they notice a decline in their ability to hear, it’s best to see an audiologist.
What is an Audiologist?
An audiologist is a doctoral level health care professional who specializes in the diagnosis and management of hearing and balance disorders. An ear, nose and throat physician (ENT) treats ear disorders through medicine and surgery. An audiologist treats hearing loss causes that are not treatable those ways. Often, an audiologist will be a front line diagnostician for hearing loss as a result of the tests they perform.
When To See An Audiologist - Children
There are several guidelines recommended for children when it comes to hearing testing and screening, starting at the newborn stage. If children are born in a hospital they will automatically be given their first hearing test before being able to go home due to the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program (EHDI). If children are not born in a hospital environment, it is imperative that they have an initial hearing test within the first 3 weeks after birth. Moving forward, children should receive routine hearing tests every year from the ages of 4-6, every two years from ages 7-12, and then again at ages 15 and 18. Sometimes these screening tests are performed in schools, but it is recommended to take children to a trained audiologist if there are any signs of hearing loss or deterioration.
When to See An Audiologist - Adults
An adult should see an audiologist for a hearing test if they experience any of the following:
- If they notice that they are asking people to repeat themselves often
- If their friends and family tell them that they don’t seem to be hearing very well
- If they have to raise the volume on the TV or radio to levels that are uncomfortable for others
- If speech sounds loud enough but they cannot determine what is said, especially in noisy environments
- If there is ringing in the ears
- If they frequently experience dizziness
- If they have a history of exposure to loud noises, like music concerts or construction equipment
- If they have a family history of hearing loss, as the majority of hearing loss is hereditary
In instances when a person is experiencing pain or pressure in the ears, it is best to see an ENT first to rule out any ear infections or other physical causes of hearing loss. If someone has a history of ear infections and are not noticing the same symptoms of the infection, but notice that their hearing isn’t as good, they should see an audiologist. If there is a need to refer the patient to an ENT, the audiologist will do so.
Hearing Test vs. Screening Test
A hearing screening is a test that measures a person’s ability to hear four different frequencies. It is a pass/fail screening that tells the audiologist whether or not a hearing test is needed. A hearing test is a full diagnostic test battery that is much more involved. It does diagnostic testing on the status of middle ear to see if there is fluid or infection present, as well as a muscle reflex in the middle ear that checks the integrity of the neural connections through the brain stem. A speech test is also involved in a hearing test, where someone speaks to the patient loud enough to hear to see if the patient can understand what’s being said. This gives the audiologist information about central processing.