Ask an Audiologist We get a lot of questions about hearing loss and hearing aids. Our experienced Audiology Manager, Andreas Seelisch, provides the answers to frequently asked questions you want about hearing health.

What's involved in a hearing test?

The hearing testing process is meant to be a very customized process. It starts out with a consultation. We want to learn what’s at the heart of concerns related to that patient, so that we understand their lifestyle, what concerns they’re having, what kind of problems are arising in their life. With all this information, we then also complete a medical history, so that we know what’s involved in their hearing and general health. From there we do the testing portion. We start with a visual exam of the ear – looking in the ear to rule out blockages of wax, holes in the ear drum or any other health concerns that might be related to the external ear. If wax is an issue, we’ll then manage it at their appointment. From there we’re going to complete a pressure reading of the ear drum. This rules out things that are relating to the ear drum – hole in the ear drum or perhaps other issues relating to infection or pressure. From there we complete a pure tone test, where we measure the hearing sensitivity at different pitches or frequencies. This beep portion of the test is what some people are already familiar with. From there we’re also completing some speech testing. Speech is at the heart of why people are concerned with their hearing because it’s connected to communication and an important part of that, I believe, is doing speech-in-noise tests. This is the reason why many people come into the office. Once we have a complete idea of the test results, we explain the results and make sure that everything is understood into what’s causing the problems that’s driven the individual into the office. Once we have this information we can make a recommendation. The recommendation might include referral. If the hearing loss is treatable, it may also include a hearing aid evaluation if it’s something that can benefit that patient.

Are hearing tests painful?

Sometimes people are concerned about the hearing test process being scary or painful. It’s meant to be an extremely comfortable process. However, there should be no pain or discomfort involved physically or otherwise. Visually looking in to the ear, involves only gentle touching of the ear. The outer portion of the ear canal is being touched gently when we’re doing the hearing test portion. And you’re only listening to very soft tones for most of the test. As such there should be no physical discomfort involved with that portion of the test either. We also complete tympanogram, which is a very light pressure reading of the ear drum, which sometimes sounds scarier than it is. For that portion of the test there’s only light pressure being put in to the ear and it shouldn’t feel any different than taking [an] elevator ride or a flight in an airplane. As such the whole process is meant to be extremely comfortable. Sometimes people are also concerned with what they might find. There’s no harm in knowing. Whatever is happening with your hearing generally is something that we can’t stop and knowing about it is only helping us to be able to have the option to do something about it if we so choose.

Why do I hear ringing in my ears?

What is Tinnitus?

A lot of people come into the clinic not necessarily concerned about their hearing initially, but concerned about symptoms called tinnitus. Tinnitus are symptoms in the ear where you hear a buzzing or a ringing or any other sound that’s not actually in the environment. Other people aren’t hearing it. It’s generated internally inside of your head or inside of your body or just inside of your mind. Tinnitus can happen for a lot of different reasons, but it’s very, very commonly associated with hearing loss. As such, if you’re experiencing chronic or continuous tinnitus, it’s a very smart idea to come in for a hearing assessment.

How do I get rid of ear wax?

One of the reasons that a lot of patients come into my office is to ask about wax. Ear wax or cerumen is a very normal component of our ear canal. Our body produces it and it’s usually a combination of oils from our body, as well as skin. The reason most people are asking about it is they want to know how to take care of wax. Fortunately, our body takes care of most wax production on its own. Wax migrates out from the ear drum kind of like a conveyor belt, moving very, very gradually from the deeper portions of the ear to the external ear. It moves very slowly at a fraction of a millimeter a day. This means the process can take quite a long time. In most cases, we don’t need to do anything to take care of the wax. People are wondering whether they should be using items like Q-Tips. However, if you look on the box of Q-Tips, it actually says not to be putting them inside of our ear canal. Even though this is why many people are purchasing them in the first place. If somebody has a wax blockage that needs to be managed, we shouldn’t be putting anything inside of the ear to try and remove it. By doing so we risk harm. We risk running into the eardrum and causing damage, such as a perforation. We also run the risk of pushing the wax deeper into the ear. This can cause it to become impacted and not come out on its own. Instead, let your body take care of the ear wax on its own. If you want to help it along, you can soften the wax using some oils – baby oil, mineral oil work very oil, even olive oil works in a pinch. This allows the wax to become soft and migrate out of the ear canal on its own.

How can I have hearing loss if I can still hear?

A lot of people come into the clinic with some ideas that what they’re experiencing might not be hearing loss. A lot of people imagine that hearing loss is going to be like the volume of the world being turned down and so they draw the conclusion that because they’re still hearing soft sounds in the world that they don’t have hearing loss. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. For most people’s hearing loss - especially when it’s due to noise, due to aging or due to genetics - hearing loss is affecting certain pitches or certain frequencies more than others. As a result, a lot of people have good or normal hearing through many areas of their hearing. Unfortunately, what they don’t realize is that certain other pitches or frequencies are being filtered out. Many times, these pitches or frequencies are related to certain speech sounds – ‘S,’ ‘TH’ or ‘F’ – and when we strip away some of these sounds of speech but not others, people are experiencing a reduction in clarity, not a reduction in volume. As a result, it’s very important to get our hearing checked even if we don’t necessarily think we’re experiencing hearing loss. It never hurts to know what’s actually happening.

Are you ever too old for hearing aids?

Sometimes people come into the clinic and wonder is it too late or am I too old to get a hearing aid? But I would answer to that it’s never too old or too late to do something about your hearing. Research shows us again and again that doing something about our hearing is good for our overall health. Our brain is a lot like a muscle and it does well with stimulation and so it’s never too late to do something about it. Research also does show us that it’s better to do something sooner rather than later, but it’s also never too late.

Can hearing loss be cured?

A question that I get very often in the clinic is can my hearing loss be cured? There’s no short answer to this. For the majority of people, hearing loss is due to sensorineural causes. This means the damage is at the nerve level. Unfortunately, most nerve-related causes are permanent and so we can’t undo them again. They happen for a variety of different reasons, most commonly aging, genetics or noise exposure and unfortunately, these types of damage are permanent. There are some exceptions however. Some conductive hearing losses are also detected in the office. If this is the case, some of those losses can be cured. If so we’re referring you to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for further investigation.

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