How to Know When It’s Time To Get A Hearing Test
“Are you listening to me? Where are your ears?” – a phrase used commonly by mothers who are frustrated at the inattention of their child. But how do we know whether it is just a child not paying attention or a child who needs a hearing test?
Adults often have the same thoughts about their hearing. They may be unsure whether the other person was mumbling, or perhaps they need the benefit that hearing aids would provide.
What is Hearing Loss?
While the ears are incredibly complex, we actually hear with our brains.
Imagine our brains are the headquarters, and our ears are like relay stations that collect incoming signals and send them on to the headquarters to be decoded.
If the signal going through is not clear, or only parts of it are present, the brain will not correctly interpret the sound.
Hearing loss occurs when the signal is lacking clarity, or parts of it are missing.
Step 1: Have a Diagnostic Hearing Test
A diagnostic hearing test is the best way to determine whether hearing loss is present and if hearing aids are needed to improve the quality of the incoming signal.
There are many possible causes of hearing loss, both in children and in adults.
Children may be born with hearing loss (congenital hearing loss). Hearing loss can also be acquired with time due to age or exposure to loud noises.
Diagnostic hearing testing of both children and adults plays an essential role in providing an accurate diagnosis and management, whether through referral to an ENT specialist or fitting hearing aids.
Hearing Issues in Children
Undetected hearing loss in children remains a significant problem in many countries. Universal newborn hearing screening is an effective method in overcoming this issue.
Young children are prone to infections of the middle ear as the structures of their ears are not yet fully developed. A child may complain that their ears are sore or that they feel blocked. Younger children may not be able to express their discomfort and will likely be generally irritable.
If an ear infection is suspected, the underlying ear infection needs to be treated before having a child’s hearing tested.
If parents are concerned that the infection is becoming a chronic issue and may be affecting the child’s hearing, then a hearing test is recommended. In these cases, hearing aids may be fitted to children to overcome the present hearing loss.
Testing Children’s Hearing
As mentioned earlier, our ears are effectively relaying a message to our brains.
What happens when a child has reduced hearing caused by an ear infection?
If the infection is resolved quickly, there is likely no long-term effect. However, if it is a prolonged issue, the younger child’s speech and language development may be affected. The older child may present with learning issues or seem distracted in the classroom.
Hearing testing in children is vital for ruling out hearing loss as a possible cause of these types of problems and ensuring appropriate management where hearing loss is identified.
Hearing testing in children can be done at all ages, with testing methods adapted to suit the child’s age and developmental level.
Testing hearing in younger children needs to be game-like to be effective so that the child is interested and engaged. This ensures that the audiologist can accurately indicate the child’s hearing level during the testing.
Reliable results are crucial when testing children’s hearing as the management decisions are based on those test results. At approximately age six, most children can pay attention for longer periods and have their hearing tested using conventional methods.
Central Auditory Processing Disorder
Testing in children may be purely to determine the level of hearing or involve further investigation into how the brain is decoding the signals that the ears are sending through.
When a child experiences auditory deprivation, i.e. the brain is not receiving an adequate signal for an extended period because of hearing loss caused by a middle ear infection, this may lead to a central auditory processing disorder.
The term central means that it has to do with what the brain is doing with its receiving signal. An auditory processing disorder is present when the brain cannot correctly interpret the signals being received from the ears.
It is particularly relevant for interpreting speech sounds in various environments, such as the home or the classroom. Like all other sounds, speech has various timings and patterns of high pitch and low pitch, and sometimes needs to be interpreted in the presence of other distracting noise.
A series of specialised tests for central auditory processing ability can be done with children aged seven and older. These tests are usually requested by teachers who have identified learning difficulties in children.
These tests aim to identify if any disorder is present and to provide appropriate recommendations for management.
Hearing Testing in Adulthood
In the same way, as it is known that children commonly suffer from middle ear infections, it is widely accepted that older people have hearing loss and often need hearing aids.
We don’t often see children with hearing aids or think of an older person having grommets inserted to manage chronic middle ear infections.
However, these scenarios occur more commonly than we may realise.
Each person’s sense of hearing is unique, and hearing testing is just as important in adulthood as it is in childhood. In adults, it is also possible for hearing loss to go undetected for many years.
In order to rule out any possible hearing impairment, all adults over the age of 21 should have their hearing tested at least once.
Even if there is no perceived hearing problem and the hearing test results are confirmed to be normal, they still serve as a valuable baseline for any future changes.
Just as with children, adults who are diagnosed with hearing loss may need to visit an ENT specialist if an underlying medical problem is suspected or receive appropriate amplification through the use of hearing aids.
Risk Factors for Hearing Loss in Adults
Many adults are at risk for hearing loss, partially because a decline in hearing is unavoidable as we age.
In cases where hearing loss is caused mainly due to ageing, the decline happens so gradually that it is usually not noticeable. If hearing aids are not worn, the individual’s perception of “normal” hearing will shift with the decline, and an increasing number of sounds will no longer be heard. Ageing, however, is not the only cause of hearing loss in adults.
Those who have a family history of hearing loss should have their hearing tested as some conditions are hereditary. In these cases of hearing loss in adults, these individuals may only notice their hearing problems in their 30s and 40s.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking and exposure to loud noise, either recreationally or in a working environment, can cause irreversible hearing loss.
Other health issues such as diabetes, heart-related problems and medical treatments can also lead to irreversible hearing loss.
Injury or trauma to the head from contact sports or accidents can also risk hearing loss.
It is advisable to have a diagnostic hearing test as an adult, even if just to rule out the possibility of any underlying medical condition or hearing loss.
Use of Hearing Aids to Prevent Auditory Deprivation
With all the causes listed above, it seems almost impossible to avoid hearing loss as an adult living in today’s world. Unfortunately, in most cases, there is little control over the decline of hearing sensitivity.
Auditory deprivation, however, is something we do have some control over.
As mentioned earlier, auditory deprivation occurs when the brain does not receive a clear signal for interpreting the sounds in our environment.
If we once again think of our brains as the headquarters with millions of workers who each respond to a particular sound in a specific way, then as sounds start to become inaudible, some workers have to be made redundant. This redundancy leads to connections in the brain being lost as a result of auditory deprivation.
Research has shown a link between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia. Hearing aids are essential for improving the signal that the ears are able to relay to the brain.
They provide increased access to sounds that would otherwise go unheard, and therefore, fewer connections are lost over time. Hearing aids are programmed to suit the needs of the individual as part of a rehabilitation plan set out by them and their audiologist.
Hearing aids cannot restore one’s hearing but rather provide an improved listening experience over what may occur without hearing aids.
When realistic hearing goals are set, hearing aids are worn regularly, and the communication lines between patient and audiologist are open, great success is the likely outcome.
If you want your or your child’s hearing tested by a qualified Audiologist near you, contact the friendly team at Attune Hearing, your partners in hearing health. Call us on 1300 736 702 or book your appointment online.