While most of us remember to have regular eye tests, we don’t often have our hearing tested in the same way and may not notice when it deteriorates. Wendy Davies, head of audiology at Siemens Hearing Instruments answers some common questions on hearing health
1. Are hearing problems more common as we get older?
Anyone can suffer from a hearing problem. Some people are born deaf, but hearing can deteriorate at any age. However, it is more common in older people for several reasons. Long-term noise causes damage over the years; hair cells in the inner ear begin to deteriorate; and the structure of the ear changes, making it less responsive to sound waves.
2. How often should I have my hearing checked?
Anyone regularly exposed to hazardous noise should have an annual hearing test, or audiogram as it is properly known. You should have an immediate check if you notice a change in your hearing, or if you develop tinnitus (a ringing sound in the ears). Otherwise, hearing should be tested every three years.
3. If someone ignores a hearing problem, will they inevitably go completely deaf?
Although it is important to seek professional advice if you suspect a hearing problem, getting the correct help won’t unfortunately prevent the deterioration. If a problem is ignored however, it can cause psychological problems such as feeling isolated, unconfident and depressed.
4. My husband has started giving the wrong answer to questions and does not seem to hear the telephone or doorbell ring anymore.
Answering questions incorrectly and not hearing noises such as the phone or doorbell are indicators that someone may have a hearing problem. Other possible pointers include appearing to ignore people; constantly asking ‘what’ or ‘pardon’; turning up the television or radio very loud; having difficulty in following conversations where there is background music; and character changes, such as isolation and withdrawal from social interaction.
5. If a hearing problem is identified, is there an alternative to the large clunky beige hearing aids?
Hearing aids don’t have to be large and unsightly these days: there are several alternatives that are small, discreet and fashionable. Some come in a range of colours and patterns designed to suit an individual’s personality and fashion style. Some devices sit discreetly inside the helix – the top part of the ear - allowing the wearer to continue their everyday life with a feeling of confidence.
There are also small devices that sit just behind the ear. Wearers can choose the colour of the device to match their hair or skin colour, meaning the instrument is barely noticeable.
6. What steps should I take if I think a friend or relative might have a hearing problem?
After talking to them about it, it is worth advising them to visit their local GP to rule out ear wax or another medical condition. Then if necessary, they may be referred to an NHS hospital or visit a private dispenser to receive further audiology advice and treatment.
7. How can I tell if I have a serious hearing problem or if it's just excess ear wax?
This is something that is best decided by your GP or practice nurse. They will be able to tell you if the problems you are experiencing are due to ear wax by looking into the ear canal with a special instrument.
8. I've heard that there is a home visit service available — what does this involve?
Some dispensers do offer a service that involves an audiologist visiting someone at their home to test their hearing and fit a suitable hearing aid if needed. The test will include a visual examination of the inside of the ears using an otoscope (a small device used to look inside the ear) and a test to evaluate how well specific sound frequencies can be heard. The results of this test are plotted on a chart called an audiogram, giving a clear picture of the hearing ability across the whole range of sound frequencies. During the home visit, the audiologist can also advise on the different types of hearing aids that are available and will also help with the measurement and fitting of the correct hearing aid device if one is.