4 reasons to schedule a hearing exam — before you think you need one
Even if you wear earplugs when you mow the lawn and take other steps to avoid exposure to loud noises, hearing loss can sneak up on you. Before you brush this off as a minor annoyance, it’s important to know that the consequences go beyond needing to turn up the volume on the TV.
“Untreated hearing loss is associated with many other health conditions, such as dementia, diabetes, falling, and depression,” says Alexandra Costlow, AuD, a doctor of audiology and the audiology outreach and communications coordinator in the department of otolaryngology at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia.
Fortunately, scheduling a yearly hearing exam is one of the simpler things you can do to help stay independent, safe, and socially connected as you age, Costlow says. Here are four things you should know about hearing loss and the benefits of regular checkups.
1. Hearing loss is common among older adults
Around 1 in 3 people between the ages of 65 and 74 have difficulty hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). The numbers climb to nearly 1 in 2 of those older than 75.
Hearing loss isn’t something you just have to live with, and taking action is important, Costlow says. That’s because even mild hearing loss can affect your daily routine.
Think about it: If you struggle to hear conversations, you may get embarrassed and frustrated and eventually step back from your usual activities. That can lead to increased stress and isolation.
You also rely on good hearing for better balance. Staying on top of your hearing health may help you avoid cognitive decline and keep you from feeling irritable, angry, and fatigued, she adds.
Blue Medicare Advantage Members can learn more about their hearing benefits here.
2. Hearing loss often develops gradually
If you have sudden hearing changes or hearing loss with dizziness or imbalance, you should get your hearing tested within 72 hours (about three days), Costlow says.
But many people have hearing loss that worsens slowly over time. As a result, they’re not aware of it until the problem has advanced beyond easy treatment, she explains.
By getting your hearing checked yearly, you’ll have an objective measure of how well you’re currently hearing so that you can address any potential issues right away.
“It’s also useful to have a baseline test to refer back to in the event that a change in hearing occurs in the future,” Costlow says. She says it’s important to schedule an exam if you notice any of these common signs of hearing loss:
- You have difficulty understanding other people’s speech.
- You routinely ask others to repeat themselves.
- You can’t hear well when background noise is present.
- You regularly turn up the volume on the television and other devices.
- You avoid social interaction because it’s hard to follow the conversation.
- You have ringing or a sensation of fullness in your ears.
3. A hearing exam pinpoints the exact cause of hearing loss
Factors that can lead to difficulty hearing include impacted earwax, chronic ear infections, fluid behind the eardrum in the middle ear, and certain medications.
“A formal hearing exam is used to diagnose the type and degree of hearing loss and may also reveal an asymmetry or difference in hearing between the ears,” Costlow says.
Depending on your exam results, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist for further evaluation.
According to Costlow, a hearing exam typically includes the following:
- Otoscopy: Examines the outer ear, ear canal, and eardrum (tympanic membrane)
- Tympanometry: Tests ear pressure and determines whether fluid is present
- Word discrimination test: Pinpoints your understanding of speech clarity
- Audiogram: Finds the type and degree of hearing loss
4. Early detection increases your odds of successful treatment
“Hearing exams help in identifying hearing loss, but that’s only half the battle,” Costlow says. “The other important component is to treat aid-able hearing loss with hearing devices.”
Using proper hearing aids is key to keeping the brain active and staying engaged with your family and friends. An audiologist can guide you through the process of getting one that works for you.
“It’s important to treat hearing loss sooner rather than later,” Costlow says. “Don’t wait until the hearing loss is severe.”
Stats on hearing loss: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
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