Q: Have you received a promotion
for a free hearing screening? Wondering what the difference is between a full diagnostic hearing test and the complimentary check?
A: Two words: hearing loss. A screening only reveals whether or not you have a hearing loss. Typically, if you sign up for a screening, you already have an idea that you may have a hearing loss. While a screening may be a good first step in determining whether you have a hearing loss, it isn’t giving you an in-depth diagnosis and will require you to make an additional appointment for a full assessment, diagnosis, and treatment with an audiologist. In other words, a screening is not a medical diagnosis and is not a substitute for a full evaluation.
A complete hearing assessment includes multiple tests that are performed by a licensed audiologist. Essentially, an audiometric test assesses your ability to hear and the brain’s ability to receive and translate the sounds. The sounds begin as vibrations and evolve into sound waves. These waves travel at a certain frequency and amplitude. Eventually, the waves enter the ear and are turned into impulses, which are sent to the brain. The brain receives them and translates them.
A full hearing evaluation actually includes multiple assessments. Tests include otoscopy, air conduction, bone conduction, and immittance testing. The hearing test will include a tympanogram, which involves placing a small probe in the ear and assessing how well the eardrum and other structures in the middle ear function. Then, the audiologist will perform an acoustic reflex test. In this assessment, a probe is placed in the ear and a loud tone is emitted. The test looks at the reflex of the stapedius muscle; this is important because it’s assessing the protection the ear receives from loud noises, typically over 70 decibels. The assessment will also evaluate your ability to hear and understand speech by having you repeat the words that you hear.
A comprehensive hearing test helps identify the three main types of hearing loss to identify the treatment route. The first type of hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss, which occurs when the sound has difficulty being conducted from the outer ear through the ear canal to the eardrum and the ossicular chain (the little bones in the middle ear). Often this type of hearing loss can be treated medically.
Another type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, which happens when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or damage to the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain. Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss most of the time is permanent. The most common recommendation the audiologist will discuss with you will be to obtain hearing aids to help hear conversations louder and clearer.
The last type of hearing loss is called mixed hearing loss, in which a conductive hearing loss occurs at the same time as a sensorineural hearing loss. So, the damage may occur in the outer, middle, and inner ear at the same time, causing a mixed hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can be treated medically or surgically, but hearing aids may still be necessary.
It’s important to discuss with the doctor any hearing-related issues you have experienced. This can include any exposure to excessively loud noises or ringing in the ears. You may not realize that certain medications or sicknesses can also have an effect on your hearing, so be sure to discuss them with the audiologist as well.
Based on the results of these tests, your audiologist will be able to determine the severity and pattern of your hearing loss and whether it’s temporary or permanent. The audiologist will divulge whether your hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural, or mixed, and will assist you in determining the appropriate treatment for your hearing loss. You may need to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist; you may require annual monitoring; or you may benefit from a hearing aid. An audiologist will be able to make these recommendations for you.
If you’re having trouble hearing and require a full assessment, feel free to call us at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic. We are happy to answer any questions you may have and set you up with an evaluation.
Randa Mansour-Shousher, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).