Hearing Loss, Hearing Tests and Hearing Aids
It is easy and painless to have your hearing tested if you are concerned about hearing loss due to old age, injury, infection or exposure to loud noises.
What should I do if I'm worried about hearing loss?
Hearing can deteriorate as we get older, and injury, infection and exposure to very loud noise can also induce hearing loss. If you are worried about your hearing, perhaps if you are finding conversation difficult or need to have the TV turned up loud, you can arrange to have your hearing tested.
Most people book an appointment with their GP, where the ear is examined for obvious physical defects, and a simple hearing test will be performed. Depending on your GP's initial assessment, you may then be referred to a hospital audiology clinic, or to the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) department.
Alternatively you can go directly to an independent hearing specialist if you suspect a problem. Boots and Specsavers both now provide hearing aids and free hearing tests.
What happens during a hearing test?
The audiologist will want to determine the extent of your hearing loss as well as the cause. To do this, they will ask you about your medical history and whether you have been exposed to unusually loud sounds, and will also examine inside your ear using an otoscope.
A detailed hearing test will be carried out using an audiometer. This produces a range of sounds at different volumes and pitches, which you listen to via headphones.
Each ear is tested separately, and for each sound frequency (ranging from low to high musical notes) the audiologist determines what is the quietest sound you can hear. From this they produce a chart which shows how good your hearing is over a range of frequencies. Some people have specific problems hearing high or low notes, while some have a generalised hearing loss over a range of frequencies.
If you cannot hear sounds quieter than 25 decibels, you probably have at least a mild form of hearing loss.
They may repeat the hearing test with a ‘bone conductor' placed behind your ear. This device allows vibrations caused by sounds to bypass parts of your ear, and may help them determine the origin of the hearing problem. They may also test your ability to listen to speech at different volumes. Depending on initial results, further tests may be carried out to determine the physical cause of hearing loss.
Treatment for hearing loss - getting a hearing aid
Unless the hearing loss originates from an infection or blockage, or a physical problem in the ear which may be fixed surgically, the only real treatment option for hearing loss is to get a hearing aid. Hearing aids pick up sounds, and process them electronically to make them louder, before playing them into the ear through a speaker. Digital and analogue hearing aids process the sound in different ways, and digital hearing aids tend to have more features, such as programmability to different situations, and reduction of background noise.
You can get free hearing aids on the NHS, but you may have to wait a long time for a fitting. Most hearing aids dispensed on the NHS are now digital. However, you may not be able to get one of the smaller ‘in-ear' hearing aids on the NHS. You will get a greater choice of hearing aids if you buy one privately. Private hearing aid dispensers should be registered with the Hearing Aid Council (HAC). A single hearing aid will probably cost between £300 and £2500.
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"You state "you may not be able to get one of the smaller ‘in-ear' hearing aids on the NHS". This suggests there is a possibility the NHS may supply the "In-ear" type, can you offer any advice on how to get the NHS to supply the smaller aid?"