Learning that you have severe hearing loss can be overwhelming. The first step is to visit an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to rule out any medical conditions that could be affecting your hearing. Next, you’ll want to work with an audiologist to learn which devices and strategies can help you manage your type of hearing loss.
You can help your health care team by asking questions and sharing essential information about yourself.
When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
How severe is my hearing loss? (mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe, profound)
What type of hearing loss do I have? (conductive, sensorineural, mixed)
Is my hearing loss permanent?
Do I have trouble detecting sound, discriminating words, or both?
Are one or both ears affected?
Will my hearing get worse?
Is there medication that might help my hearing?
Am I a candidate for surgery to correct hearing loss?
Could I benefit from a cochlear implant?
Could I benefit from a hearing aid? Which types might work best for me?
What are the pros and cons of hearing aids vs. cochlear implants?
Would I benefit from hearing aids or implants in both ears?
Where can I find assistance in paying for these devices?
What other assistive listening devices might be helpful?
Where can I learn sign language?
Where can I learn about services like closed captioning and TTY?
Would I benefit from speech and language therapy?
What other communication improvement strategies should I know about?
Should I avoid certain activities?
Would I benefit from aural rehabilitation (listening therapy)?
Information to Share With Your Health Care Team
Your ENT doctor may want to see copies of your previous lab test results or MRI scans you may have already had. Be sure to find out what you should bring to the appointment before your office visit. If you haven't had any testing, your doctor may order MRI or CT scans of your ears.
When you meet with a new ENT doctor or audiologist, it’s helpful to be prepared to share the following information with your hearing specialist:
Do you have any chronic medical conditions?
Do you take medications or dietary supplements on a regular basis?
Have you had any surgeries (such as weight loss surgery) or infections (such as an ear infection or meningitis) that may have damaged the ears?
Have you experienced any head trauma?
Have you been exposed to loud noises, including music?
Do you have a family history of hearing loss?
How much is hearing loss affecting your daily life?
Is it difficult to carry on a phone conversation?
Do you have trouble hearing the television?
Is it difficult to understand people when there is a lot of background noise?
Is it difficult to understand people even in a quiet room?
Do you have trouble hearing high-pitched sounds or voices?
Is hearing loss affecting your job?
Is hearing loss affecting your social life?
Is hearing loss affecting other important activities in your life?
Do you feel frustrated, isolated, or depressed?
Whether your hearing loss affects one ear or both, and whether you can hear some sounds or none at all, there is no need to be isolated. Work with your health care providers to find the best combination of hearing devices and communication strategies.
It’s important to start the information-gathering process with realistic expectations; understand that most devices cannot restore your hearing to normal. But making use of the right tools and resources can help enhance communication in all aspects of your life.
Craig Newman, PhD, head of audiology, Cleveland Clinic.
Gordon Hughes, MD, program officer for clinical trials, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Samuel Atcherson, PhD, fellow, American Academy of Audiology.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: “Ten Ways To Recognize Hearing Loss.”
Louis R. Chanin, MD on September 30, 2012