Hearing Loss: Would You Pass the Test?



It’s almost inevitable – our hearing acuity goes down over time. Even as I am in my 40s, my kids have made me aware of things they can hear but I cannot. In fact, there’s a mobile app that generates a tone that teenagers can hear but adults can’t!

Eventually, we all get to the point when we think that people, particularly younger people, are mumbling when they speak and that’s why we can’t hear them. Well, I have some bad news. They aren’t mumbling any more now than they were years ago, when we could hear them just fine. What has changed is our hearing.

I see people in my office every day who come to get their hearing checked. Some swear that they can’t hear well at all, and find out that their hearing is near normal. Others on the opposite end of the spectrum come in claiming they can hear just fine, and all the while their spouse is signaling to me discreetly that the situation involves a “bad case of denial.”

Ultimately, to solve this mystery, we do a hearing test. It is typically done in a doctor’s office or a hearing aid business. The key is to have it done by a trained provider with a properly calibrated machine. I have seen cases of tests that were horribly inaccurate and led a patient down a confusing trail of misdiagnoses. Once the test is done, the results must be interpreted, and this is where significant differences of opinion come into play.

The key is to have the test done by a trained provider with a properly calibrated machine.

Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

If you have your hearing tested at a hearing aid business and the test shows anything more than mild loss, there is a very high likelihood that hearing aids will be recommended. Along with this recommendation, in many places, you will receive a very convincing argument to buy hearing aids with lots of features and for both ears. For some people, it is a good recommendation; for others, however, they are completely unnecessary. You may know someone who has bought hearing aids – some cost $10,000 – but for whatever reason, they never wear them.

My advice has always been that if someone doesn’t feel that they have a hearing issue, regardless of what the hearing test shows, they are not likely to wear hearing aids – so, don’t force or try to convince them. Like the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water …” Eventually, he or she will realize how much they are missing due to poor hearing and will then seek help. There are some who say that if you don’t get hearing aids early, your hearing will get worse. Well, the science shows that hearing acuity decreases with age, anyway, and it doesn’t happen any slower if you wear hearing aids.

So, if you or someone you care about has suspected hearing loss, by all means, schedule a test. If it indicates moderate to severe loss, then the patient can assess how much they feel their quality of life is being affected and consider hearing aid amplification based on that assessment. When it comes to all the bells and whistles with hearing aids, the bottom line is that they all amplify sound. While some are multi-featured with remote controls and programmability, others are simple amplifiers with limited options. Some people want a loaded Cadillac and others are content with a basic Chevy – they both get you from Point A to Point B. If it’s your first go-around with hearing aids, try one first and see if you like it. If so, then get one for the other ear when you are able.

There you have it: my two cents!

About the Author: Bobby Mukkamala, MD is a board-certified Otolaryngologist who completed his undergraduate and medical school training in the Inteflex program at the University of Michigan. He went on to Loyola University, where he completed his Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery residency. Dr. Mukkamala is in practice in his hometown of Flint in an office he shares with his wife Nita, an OB/GYN. He is past chair of the state’s young physicians section and member of the Michigan State Medical Society Board of Directors. He also serves on the board of directors of the Crim Fitness Foundation, and is on the teaching faculty of Hurley, Genesys, and McLaren Hospitals. He is involved in clinical research with the otolaryngology residents in those programs. He has also been appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm to the Board of Audiology of the State of Michigan.


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