Many Australians think. “I’m young, I won’t need to start worrying about my hearing until I’m 50”, Well that is where you are wrong! The truth is, hearing loss is the second most common health condition experienced by Australians, even more common than asthma, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Research has shown that 4.5% of the Australian population suffer from hearing loss due to genetics, smoking, medication, diabetes and poor eating habits. All of these conditions can cause damage to the hair cells in your inner ear that is responsible for transferring signals to the brain. Once those cells are damaged, they DO NOT re-grow and there is no medication to treat it. That is why it is very important for you to seek help as soon as you notice a difference in your hearing abilities. The earlier you take action, the better it is long-term.
Now you’re probably thinking…Where should I start? Where do I go for advice? What is causing my hearing problem? Will this affect my social life? Do I need to start to wear hearing aids? The good news is not all hearing loss requires a hearing aid as a solution and the first step is to better understand the type of hearing loss and level. For those who are familiar with hearing tests types, great! For others who may not have had a test in the past, this is where the quality of your hearing test becomes one of your most important steps.
STEP 1: Start your hearing journey with your GP (Doctor)
Having trouble hearing? Book in a consultation with your GP. Even if it is as simple as a little discomfort in the ear or having to have people repeat what they say because you didn’t hear them properly the first time, it is best to communicate with your GP about all these issues you are having as soon as possible. Your GP can identify if the loss is temporary or whether your hearing requires further diagnosis by a professional Audiologist. Keep in mind, your GP may not know that one in three hearing providers on the market is actually owned by a manufacturer of hearing aids.
STEP 2: Tips for finding a good hearing provider
The next step is to find yourself a good hearing provider. An Audiologist is where a GP would send you. Audiologists are licensed hearing health care professionals who specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders in adults and children. If your GP has not recommended an Audiologist for you, it is important to know where to find a good one.
Tips to look out for when choosing a good hearing provider:
Free online hearing tests?
At this point, you may have gone online and researched where to get your hearing tested and come across multiple free online hearing tests. You may be wondering “Well since it’s free online, why should I care to pay and see an Audiologist?” Here’s the truth: Despite having an online test being convenient and timely in the comfort of your own home, they are inaccurate and definitely not a substitute to a face-to-face diagnosis with a professional Audiologist with calibrated equipment. Hearing loss is measured using either subjective tests, such as audiometric testing, or objective tests, which measures a physiological response from an individual. A hearing test needs to include an accurate assessment of your medical history, an otoscopic examination (an inner ear inspection with a torch) and special equipment to perform the tests e.g. Soundproof booth, specially calibrated headset. With online tests being uncalibrated and reliant on your own specific earphone and surrounding sounds, what do you think the results would be? Not reliable!!
CASE STUDY: Types of hearing tests and accuracy
For the purpose of this case study, a number of tests were conducted using brand new iPhone earphones in an office environment with no noticeable ambient noise and audio discrepancies.
Figure 1: Free online hearing test results
Figure 2: In a medical clinic on an Otohub iPad test
Figure 3: In a purpose-built soundproof facility with calibrated equipment performed by a Qualified Audiologist (Attune Hearing PTA results)
As you can see from the results shown above, there are inconsistencies in the online hearing test result, therefore it is safe to conclude that online hearing tests are unreliable and cannot substitute for an actual hearing test with a qualified audiologist in a soundproof environment with calibrated equipment.
STEP 3: Book an appointment and be educated on what’s involved
Now that you have finally chosen your preferred hearing provider and booked in, regardless if you’re looking to do a comprehensive hearing test, an audio test, an audiometry test, a balance test or simply a 15- minutes hearing check, it is important to understand the types of tests done in an Audiology Clinic.
A Pure Tone Audiogram (PTA) is a full diagnostic hearing assessment used to identify your hearing threshold levels. It helps Audiologists determine the type, degree and configurations of your hearing loss. This procedure is done through listening to sounds played through a headphone and responding by pressing a button.
A Speech Discrimination Test assesses how well you understand words. Audiologists would ask you to repeat one-syllable words played through a headphone. Measured in percentages, 100% means you understand everything you hear and 0% means you can’t understand a single word, no matter how loud the volume is turned up.
The Middle Ear Test also known as Tympanometry is an automatic test where a small plug is placed in your ear and measures eardrum movement. If there is little movement in the eardrum, it is an indication that there could be fluid behind the drum blocking your hearing as a result of a middle ear infection.
These simple tests may sound invasive and painful to go through, but a professional audiologist would take a holistic approach to your hearing health care and aim to make the process as easy and comfortable as possible. A quality hearing test encompasses all these components to ensure accurate results on your hearing health.
STEP 4: Results and follow-up
You have gone through the test, sat through an explanation of the results. Do I have a hearing loss? How serious is the loss? What is the solution to my hearing loss? An audiologist will explain your hearing loss and options and recommend an appropriate solution. If you have followed the tips above on how to find a good hearing provider, an Audiologist would recommend hearing aids if they truly believe it would be beneficial for you to be fitted with amplification. In addition, a well-established hearing provider would retest your hearing yearly to ensure your hearing has improved and not deteriorated. Your audiological results will be provided back to your GP if requested. If you decide to get a referral from your GP, there will be a rebate. For rebates please contact ATTUNE at 1300 736 702.
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