[ big band music ]
Narrator: Our sense of hearing is essential to our every day existence. Hearing well allows us to participate fully in life, to enjoy social activities and the company of others. Hearing is important in protecting us from hazards, too. But as we age, we may find that our hearing is not as good as it once was.
Physician: Is there a family history of hearing loss? Your parents? Brothers or sisters?
Patient: Yeah, my father had a hearing loss.
Physician: Did he wear a hearing aid?
Patient: Yes, he did.
Physician: How about -- did you have ear infections when you were younger?
Physician: You did. Did you require any surgery to correct any of this?
Patient: Yeah, I had the equivalent of tubes put in.
Narrator: People with hearing loss may experience some, or all of the following problems. Difficulty hearing conversations, especially when there is background noise. Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women or children. Difficulty hearing the television or radio at a normal volume. Hissing, roaring, or ringing in the years, also known as tinnitis. Fatigue and irritation caused by the effort to hear. If you think you might have a hearing loss, it is important to have your hearing checked by a doctor. Your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in the ear, nose and throat.
Stephen Epstein, M.D.: An examination by an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat specialist, will include a history to determine the cause of the hearing loss. For example, was there a family history of hearing loss, was there a history of ear infection, was there any history of trauma to the ear, was there was a history of noise exposure, which happens to be one of the most common causes of hearing loss that we see in people today. After the history, the specialist will then perform an examination, which includes an examination of the outer ear and the ear canal, to determine whether there's any obstruction and wax, or narrowing, or tumor formation. They will examine the middle ear and the ear drum to determine whether there's any evidence of any destruction, such as the perforation of the ear drum, whether there's any tumor formation or fluid in the middle ear, whether there's any evidence of any destruction of the conductive bones in the middle ear.
Narrator: Your doctor may also refer you to another hearing professional, an audiologist. An audiologist can measure your hearing.
Woman: You're going to hear a series of beeping sounds. Some of them you'll hear easily, but most of them are going to be quite soft. When you hear any sound at all, I want you to signal for me by just lifting your finger if you would, please. OK?
[ beeping ]
Solveig Ingersoll, M.A., CCC-A: In an audiologist's office, the exam for hearing sensitivity involves taking a history, examining the ear to see if there's wax accumulation or some obstruction, and a hearing test to determine whether there's a partial loss of hearing, whether there's an element of distortion, and that testing takes place in a soundproof room, using earphones or inserts to conduct sound to one ear at a time, and to listen to a variety of tones, some low-pitched and kind of humming, others very high-pitched and squeaky, and they're trying to determine the very softest level they can barely make out these tones. Information obtained in an audiological evaluation is usually described and displayed as an audiogram. You make a graph of those tests results. And I have such a graph here. The numbers across the top identify the different tones that are tested, ranging from the low, kind of humming sounds at this end and as the number gets bigger, you're talking about progressively higher and squeakier sounds. The numbers down the side are units of loudness -- decibels. And people are more sensitive to some of these tones than others. We don't hear dog whistles very well, for example, but that sensitivity is already calibrated into the test equipment. So, if you have normal hearing, you should be able to hear the sounds all the way down to zero, which is baseline.
Narrator: Otolaryngologists and audiolologists can work together to find the treatment that is right for you. As we grow older, staying engaged in activities we enjoy can enrich our lives. Making sure our hearing is functioning as well as possible can help keep us in the swing of things.