A guide to getting a hearing assessment

If you have noticed a decline in your hearing and suspect that you might need a hearing aid, it is important to have a hearing assessment as soon as possible. This type of medical examination can usually be carried out at one of your local health care clinics. Here is a brief guide to the three stages of a typical hearing assessment.

Stage 1: A discussion about your health

Your doctor will begin the hearing assessment process by having a conversation with you about your health. They may ask you if you have developed symptoms which may be indicative of hearing problems (such as hearing loss, vertigo, ear pain, tinnitus or discharge coming out of the ear canal).

They may also inquire about your medical history, as there are certain conditions, like an ear infection or an allergy, which can result in hearing loss. Additionally, they will probably check if you are currently on any medications, as there are a number of prescription drugs (including specific types of antibiotics, NSAIDs and chemotherapy medications) which are known to be harmful to the ears.

Lastly, they may ask if you have been exposed to loud noises recently or if you have suffered any form of injury to your head or ears, as both of these things can affect your ability to hear.

Stage 2: A visual examination

After your discussion, the doctor will then perform a visual examination of both of your ears. This is normally done using a tool called an otoscope. An otoscope is essentially a very small light which is attached to a magnifying glass, which allows doctors to gain visual access to the ear canal.

Your doctor will use this tool to examine the inside of your ears. They will check for the presence of foreign bodies or ear wax, both of which can act as physical barriers which prevent sound waves from entering the ear and being transmitted to the brain. They will also look for indications of inflammation or infection, for eardrum perforations and for a buildup of fluid within your middle ear.

Stage 3: Hearing tests

Following the visual examination, your doctor will carry out some simple hearing tests. These will include a whispering test which, as the term itself implies, involves the doctor speaking very softly (or playing a recording of someone else whispering) and checking to see if you can understand what they are saying. They may also repeat this test, with the addition of background noise, to determine if these other sounds make it harder for you to hear what is being said.

Some types of hearing tests, such as a PTA (Pure Tone Audiometry) require special equipment (in this case, an audiometer) that your health care clinic may not have. As such, if your hearing loss is quite severe and your doctor believes you need further tests, you may be referred to an audiologist, who will have the equipment and the expertise required to perform these type of examinations.

If the results of your assessment indicate that you have suffered some form of hearing loss which cannot be rectified (for example, if you have developed permanent noise-induced hearing loss), then your doctor may have you fitted for a hearing aid. Whilst hearing aids cannot usually fully restore one's hearing, they can help to amplify sounds and thus make everyday activities, like having a conversation in a noisy public place, much easier.