hearing aid

Managing Hearing Loss

Have you had your hearing checked? While a hearing test may not get the publicity that mammograms and colonoscopies do, the Mayo Clinic recommends a baseline hearing evaluation at age 50.

After that, the Mayo experts say, you should have a regularly scheduled followup assessment depending on your needs.

Gayla Poling, Ph.D., Audiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, spoke with the Mayo Clinic News Network about the issue.

She said that hearing loss is far from uncommon: “Hearing loss that occurs gradually with age is common. About 25 percent of people in the U.S. between 55 and 64 have some hearing loss. For those older than 65, that number is closer to 50 percent.”

And while aging is a factor, there may be other causes as well, including long-term exposure to loud noises. Genetics may play a role in some cases, too,” Poling said. “Other factors, such as excessive earwax, can temporarily prevent your ears from conducting sounds as well as they should and may add to hearing problems.”

“Most types of hearing loss cannot be reversed,” Poling said, but added “that doesn’t mean, however, that you simply have to put up with not being able to hear. There are effective management options that can help improve your hearing and make it easier for you to interact with the people around you.”

If you think your hearing is growing weaker, Poling recommends a comprehensive hearing evaluation. She said that this “usually involves your health care provider first doing a physical exam of your ears to see if factors such as earwax, inflammation or problems with the structure of your ears may be contributing to hearing loss. He or she may ask you questions about your medical history and any communication difficulties you’ve had.”

The next step: “If that points to possible hearing loss, your health care provider likely will recommend a more thorough hearing evaluation with an audiologist. For that, you sit in a soundproof room, wear earphones and hear sounds directed to one ear at a time. During the evaluation, a range of sounds in various tones are presented, and you indicate each time you hear the sound. Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find the softest you can hear. The responses are recorded on a graph known as an audiogram. You also may be asked to sit quietly as additional tests are performed to evaluate the function of your ears.”

Poling said that if you do have hearing loss, your audiologist can talk with you about options for managing your condition. Some possibilities include hearing aids and, for more severe cases, cochlear implants.

But, she said, regardless of what your evaluation reveals, you should take steps to No matter what the outcome of your evaluation, take steps to protect your hearing. “Remember, the louder the sound, the less time you should be around it. When you wear headphones, keep the volume safe. With headphones on, you should still be able to hear someone talking to you in a normal voice an arm’s length away. Wear hearing protection when you’re around noisy tools, equipment or firearms.”

For more information about health issues, visit www.mayoclinic.org.