When to Consider an Ear Test and What to ExpectIt is an alarming fact that we live in an age when the incidence of hearing loss is not only at its highest level ever, but is now also affecting people of a much younger age than was the case in the past. Most of us tend to think of this, primarily, as the more or less inevitable result of getting older, although there appears to be an increased awareness, at least in some circles, of the role played by constant exposure to loud noises in noise-induced hearing loss.
It is, somewhat ironically, both fortunate and unfortunate that the onset of deafness is normally a slow and cumulative process. Fortunate, because it takes longer before the condition becomes sufficiently severe to interfere with one’s normal lifestyle, but unfortunate, because although irreversible, if detected sufficiently early, its progression can be slowed considerably. All that is needed is a simple ear test. However, one must first be aware that such testing may be necessary.
There is some excuse for failing to recognise the symptoms of hearing loss in an infant, as these will often only become apparent when the child fails to demonstrate the landmark abilities of its peers. In the case of an adult, however, the signs are normally quite evident, although generally more so to third parties, such as family members, friends and colleagues, than to those actually affected. The subject is often reluctant to accept the possibility, falsely believing it to be a sign of premature aging, while others may feel too embarrassed to draw attention to the problem. Both victims and their peers should therefore be aware that deafness affects people of all ages and that, the earlier it is recognised, the more effectively it can be managed.
For someone affected, accepting the signs and acting upon them is crucial, and for third parties, being concerned enough to draw attention to them could prompt him or her to seek an ear test. Although just a simple step, it could mean the difference between a normal lifestyle and lifelong communication difficulties at home and at work, and possibly even preclusion from the workplace.
At any of the 20 Ear Institute clinics operating across South Africa, anyone concerned about their hearing is free to phone for an appointment, without any need for a *referral from a GP. The clinics are staffed by qualified healthcare professionals, including experienced audiologists and, in certain of the larger clinics, even a specialist ENT doctor. It is the former, however, who will be responsible for the testing procedures and, if indicated, for referring any medical concerns to a doctor or specialist.
There is nothing to fear from procedures undertaken by the audiologist. They are completely non-invasive in nature, and will involve no discomfort. Following a brief physical examination to rule out temporary deafness due to infection or excess build-up of earwax and other conditions, such as swollen tonsils or adenoids, that might require medical attention, the main component of an ear test is the audiogram.
State-of-the-art audio equipment is used to deliver the test sounds to an earpiece. Testing of left and right ears is performed separately, and conducted at various wavelengths within the audible range. The volume of each signal is slowly increased until the subject acknowledges he or she has heard it by pressing a button. This, in turn, records that level against the appropriate frequency on a graph. When complete, the graph provides a hearing profile that highlights those frequencies affected, and the degree to which their detection at each frequency is impaired. Further testing is performed to differentiate conductive from sensorineural or mixed hearing loss.
Combined, the findings assist the audiologist to decide upon the best option with which to manage a patient’s hearing loss, and to tailor a solution that will be compatible with his or her hearing profile, as established by the ear test.
In most cases, that solution will be a conventional hearing aid, although in some instances, a pair of aids may prove to be the best option. Ear Institutes have long favoured Phonak products for their proven reliability, the wide range of wearer options and their innovative features, such as the ability to interact readily with other digital devices.
In cases of severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, the only viable option may be a cochlear implant. At this point, the audiologist will refer potential candidates to an ENT specialist, who will assess their suitability before accepting them for surgery.
*Not all medical aids are equal; terms, conditions and exclusions may vary.