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How can I tell if I have a hearing loss?

Some warning signs and hearing loss symptoms include:

  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Missing large parts of conversations when there is a lot of background noise
  • Finding it hard to understand dialogue at the movies or the theater
  • Complaining that people around you are mumbling when they speak
  • Inability to hear common sounds like doorbells or alarm clocks

If you think you have a hearing loss, take the 5 minute hearing test developed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

What causes hearing loss?

There are many possible causes of hearing loss: aging, genetics, noise, trauma to the head, infection, Meniere’s disease, tumors, otosclerosis, congenital disorders, and physical blockage. If you think you have a hearing loss, you should see an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor, or your primary care doctor. 488 million Americans have a hearing loss. You are not alone!

The doctor will advise you on whether or not you should consider hearing aids and refer you to an audiologist.

How do I find a good audiologist?

The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), the certifying organization for audiologists, can provide you with names of certified audiologists in your area. You can also visit the Washington State Academy of Audiology to search for a local audiologist.

During your first visit, determine whether or not you are comfortable with this person. Much like when you select your primary care physician, you need to feel that you trust the person and that you have good rapport. If not, try someone else. This will be a long- term relationship, so be sure you feel good about this person from the start.

What is the difference between an audiologist and a hearing aid dispenser?

Audiologists have at least a master’s degree. They are certified by the American Speech Language Hearing Association. The letters CCC (Certificate of Clinical Competence) follow the names of qualified audiologists and the CCC-A indicates certification in the fields of audiology.

Recent laws require new hearing aid dispensers to be trained in measuring and interpreting hearing tests. Dispensers are licensed by their State to sell and service hearing aids. Some dispensers do receive certification from the National Board for Certification of Hearing Instrument Sciences, indicated by the letters BC-HIS. In order to be certified, they must attend continuing education courses and successfully pass a national examination.

Which hearing aids are the best?

As with many things, it depends.

An audiologist will recommend one or more models based on your type of hearing loss, the severity, your living and/or working conditions, and cost. There is no simple way in advance to tell which hearing aid is best for a person — what might be appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another. This is why hearing aids that are sold through mail order catalogs or on-line may be ineffective or even harmful.

Unfortunately, many people look for the cheapest option. When price is the main deciding factor, oftentimes people choose an option that isn’t effective. When this happens, the hearing aid often ends up in a drawer unused. Get fitted properly and don’t let price be your sole consideration. Get in touch with one of our members who can share with you their experience of getting hearing aids.

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is an electronic device designed to bypass the external and middle ear and excite the auditory nerve directly. It is implanted in the cochlea; and by stimulating auditory nerve fibers, patterns of nerve activity occur which the brain interprets as sound. Cochlear implants are the hearing solution for people with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears. For a complete description of how cochlear implants work, click here.

How can I get help for ringing in my ears?

This is called tinnitus. Tinnitus can be described as “ringing” ears or the sound of other head noises that are perceived in the absence of any external noise source. It is estimated that 1 out of every 5 people experience some degree of tinnitus. Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition. There are many causes of tinnitus, such as wax against the ear drum, middle ear infections, otosclerosis (fixation of the stapes or stirrup bone), presbycusis (hearing loss with age), Meniere’s syndrome (a problem affecting both the hearing and balance), and acoustic neuroma (small, rare tumor of the acoustic nerve). It can also be caused by exposure to loud sounds such as shooting, chain saws, rock concerts, etc.

To learn more about this condition from the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center, click here. Or visit the American Tinnitus Association.

My doctor tells me I have an acoustic neuroma. Where can I get information on this?

An acoustic neuroma is a growth – a benign tumor – on the auditory nerve. As it grows larger, it impinges on the nerve conduction and hearing is lost permanently. Some tumors grow very slowly and others grow rapidly. For more information from the Acoustic Neuroma Association, click here, or contact the Seattle Acoustic Neuroma Group.

What is Meniere’s disease?

Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes of vertigo, tinnitus, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear, and fluctuating hearing loss. A typical attack of Meniere’s disease may be preceded by fullness or aching in one or both ears. Hearing fluctuation or tinnitus (ringing or sounds in the ears) may also precede an attack. A Meniere’s episode generally involves severe vertigo (spinning), imbalance, nausea, and vomiting. The average attack lasts two to four hours. After a severe attack, most people find that they are extremely exhausted and must sleep for several hours.

The cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown; but possible contributors are stress, excessive salt intake, and occasionally, endocrine problems, such as low thyroid function, abnormal sugar metabolism, or an inability to handle fats, high cholesterol and/or triglycerides.

To learn more about this condition from the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center of the University of Washington, click here.

How does exposure to noise affect hearing? When should I protect my ears?

Exposure to noise is damaging to hearing. The longer you are exposed to a loud noise, the more damaging it may be. The closer you are to the source of intense noise, the more damaging it is. Any exposure to noise above 105dB can have an immediate damaging effect, but will vary with individual susceptibility. There is no way to restore life to dead nerve endings; the damage is permanent, so protect yourself with earplugs when necessary.

Decibels (dB):
Shotgun blast 140
Jet Takeoff 130
Rock concerts 120
Portable stereo 95
Electric blender 90
Baby screaming 80
Vacuum cleaner 75
Normal conversation 60
Quiet library 50
Whisper 30

Maximum exposure before damage occurs:
8 hours @ 90dB
4 hours @95dB
2 hours @100dB
1 hour @105dB

Why do my ears plug up when I am on an airplane?

The middle ear is an air pocket that is vulnerable to changes in air pressure. Normally, each time you swallow, a small bubble of air enters your middle ear from the back of your nose. It enters the middle ear through the Eustachian tube, a membrane-lined tube about the size of a pencil lead. The air is constantly being absorbed by the membranous lining of the middle ear, being re-supplied through the Eustachian tube during the process of swallowing. In this manner air pressure on both sides of the ear drum stays about equal. If, and when, the air pressure is not equal, the ear feels blocked.

Altitude changes require the Eustachian tube to open frequently and widely enough to equalize the changes in pressure. The act of swallowing activates the muscle that opens the Eustachian tube. If you chew gum or let mints melt in your mouth, you will swallow more often, thus activating the muscle. Yawning is an even stronger activator of that muscle. During air travel avoid sleeping during descent, because you may not be swallowing often enough to keep up with the pressure changes.

Children are especially vulnerable because their Eustachian tubes are narrower than adults. Babies cannot intentionally equalize or pop their ears, but may do so if they are sucking on a bottle or pacifier. Feed your baby, keep him/her in a sitting position and do not allow him/her to sleep during descent when the pressure changes are the worst.

Colds, sinus infections, and allergy attacks exaggerate air pressure problems, so it is best to postpone an airplane trip. Also, if you have recently undergone ear surgery, consult your surgeon on how soon you may safely fly.

Are hearing aids covered by insurance?

Typically not.

Despite hearing loss being one of the most common medical problems in the general population, there are only a few private insurance carriers which cover part of the cost of hearing aids. Medicare does not cover hearing aids at this time. However, Washington State Medicaid does cover hearing aids and hearing care (to certain limits.)