Is Earwax The Reason I Need A Hearing Test?
Have you noticed a full or blocked sensation in your ear? Is it impacting the way you hear things? Are you having trouble listening to people in social situations? There are many reasons why one might need to get a hearing test, one of the most common being earwax buildup in the ear.
This article will discuss what earwax is, what it does, and whether it is a reason you need to get a hearing test.
What is Earwax?
Earwax (medically referred to as cerumen) is skin cells from your ear canal and ear hair. The role of earwax is to clean the ears and protect them against bacteria and other foreign bodies.
Earwax can vary in colour, ranging from light yellow to dark brown. It is often non-contagious unless there happens to be an ear infection or ear discharge. Too much wax production or impaction by using cotton buds can lead to blockage of the ear canals. The blockage can lead to temporary hearing loss as sound cannot travel further into the deeper ear structures.
If this happens, sometimes your GP will refer you to an audiologist to get a hearing test. So, what should you expect and what is involved in a hearing test?
An initial hearing assessment begins with a case history, where the audiologist will ask you a series of questions to identify unknown issues which may require further attention. A question you may answer yes to is aural fullness/blockage sensation, in which you will further explain that it’s the main reason why you’ve come to get a hearing test.
After completing a case history, the audiologist will move on to discussing your hearing difficulty. During this part of the hearing assessment, your audiologist will ask you about your ability to hear in everyday environments (social gatherings, work, watching TV). The typical response in this situation is that you’re having difficulty with hearing and wax removal by your GP usually fixes the hearing issues; however, it doesn’t anymore.
The next part of your hearing assessment will involve the audiologist examining your outer ear before taking a deeper look into your ear canals. In the event of impacted earwax, the audiologist will not see past it to examine the eardrum for pathology. Any pathology noted in the outer ear structure and/or eardrum will be reported back to your GP for potential further treatment.
After examining your outer ear and eardrum for wax and pathology, your audiologist will then test the mobility of your eardrum. This test is called tympanometry. This test will not only assess whether earwax is significantly impacting your ear canals but also provide information on middle ear pathology (middle ear infections, colds that may be affecting your ears).
Pure Tone Audiometry
The purpose of the hearing test, otherwise known as pure tone audiometry, is to measure the softest tones you can hear. Pure tone audiometry is performed to measure your hearing sensitivity thresholds for sounds ranging from low pitch to high pitch sounds.
The sounds for which you’ll respond will be presented through two different methods. The first part of the pure tone audiometry will measure your hearing thresholds when tones are being presented through headphones, also known as air conduction. Ear conduction testing measures your hearing thresholds for your whole hearing system, such as sound travelling through your ear canal, eardrum and associated bone structures and onto your cochlear.
Bone conduction testing usually follows air conduction testing. Bone conduction testing bypasses your outer and middle ear to determine whether sound is being impeded by your outer and/or middle ear. In the event of significant wax buildup, your bone conduction thresholds would be significantly better than your air conduction as sounds are being impeded from travelling further. Removal of suspected earwax would allow sound to travel through your ear canal once again.
The difference between ears in hearing sensitivity can often lead to blockage or fullness sensation. It is not uncommon for a patient to believe the blockage sensation is due to earwax, when in fact, the significant difference in their underlying hearing is the cause. This scenario is commonly seen within the field of audiology. Therefore, it’s why GP’s often refer patients for hearing tests if flushing of wax has not alleviated the blockage feeling.
The last part of your hearing test will assess your ability to perceive speech presented at varying levels.
Words will be presented to you at different levels (soft conversational, normal conversational) in which you will be asked to repeat as you hear them. Speech audiometry results can be used to verify the validity of your hearing thresholds and whether you may benefit from amplification.
To Sum It Up
Earwax is your body’s natural way of protecting your ears from foreign bodies. However, excessive production of earwax or impaction due to the use of cotton buds can cause problems.
A hearing test will be able to test whether your wax is the cause of the blockage sensation and hearing loss or whether there may be another underlying cause for your symptoms.