Every now and then, your doctor may ask you to get a hearing test. Don’t assume that something is wrong. Hearing tests are how doctors use to make sure that your ears work well.
With age, hearing loss becomes more likely. About 14% of people ages 45 to 64 have some degree of hearing loss, but that rises to more than 30% among people who are 65 or older. This is why your doctor will want to test your hearing every few years, rather than just once as an adult.
Experts recommend that adults get their hearing tested every 10 years until age 50, and then every 3 years after that.
Why Would I Need a Hearing Test?
Some people may suspect that they have hearing loss. They have trouble hearing people talk to them when they’re in a crowded room, or they’ve been told they raise the volume on the TV way too high.
But not all people know that they have a problem. You may not realize that you have hearing loss, because it’s often a gradual process. That’s why it’s important to have your ears checked when your doctor says you should, even if you think you’re fine.
There are many causes of hearing loss in adults:
- Being around loud noises often at work
- Mowing the lawn or using power tools
- Shooting guns or other weapons
- Loud music, both live and recorded
- Too much ear wax
- Getting hit on the head
- Having an infection
- Taking certain drugs
- Problems with hearing that run in the family
Older adults who don’t do anything to address their hearing loss are more likely to feel left out of social events that they’d normally enjoy, because they can’t hear what’s happening. They might even stop seeing their friends or family as often because they’re embarrassed that they can’t hear well. Isolation makes people more likely to become depressed, unless they get help for their hearing loss. Learn more about the different types of hearing loss tests and what you can expect from each.
What to Expect During the Test
The whole process should take about 30 minutes, and it’s painless.
Most adults who get hearing tests are asked to wear earphones and listen to short tones that are played at different volumes and pitches into one ear at a time. Whether or not you can hear each sound shows whether or not you can hear high-pitched or low-pitched sounds, quiet or loud sounds, and whether your left or right ear has hearing loss.
During some hearing tests, you may also be asked to listen to speech at different volumes, which will be played into one ear at a time. The voices will be played quietly through your earphones, and you’ll be asked to repeat what words were just said. This test is done in a soundproof room, since some people have trouble hearing voices when there’s background noise.
What the Results Mean
A hearing test isn’t a pass-fail exam. But the results can show whether you have hearing loss in one or both ears and how much hearing is gone.
The intensity of sound is measured in units called decibels. When someone whispers in your ear, that’s 30 decibels. Normal speech is 60 decibels. Shouting in your ear starts at 80 decibels.
Adults with hearing loss up to 25 decibels have normal hearing. Hearing loss breaks down this way:
- Mild hearing loss: 26 to 40 decibels
- Moderate hearing loss: 41 to 55 decibels
- Moderate-to-severe hearing loss: 56 to 70 decibels
- Severe hearing loss: 71 to 90 decibels
- Profound hearing loss: 91 to 100 decibels
You may be surprised if your hearing test results show that you have mild, moderate, or even greater hearing loss -- especially if your hearing loss has crept up on you gradually. Your doctor may send you to see an ear-nose-throat doctor, perhaps to an audiologist – a doctor whose specialty is hearing.
Even though you can’t restore hearing loss, there are ways to make up for it and protect the hearing that you still have.
If you find out that you need to wear hearing aids, there are many different styles to choose from. And they’re much smaller than hearings aids that your grandpa wore years ago. Some models sit behind the ear, others go in it. Still others are hidden all the way in the ear canal.
You may need devices that can make sounds louder for you to hear. For example, some products help to make phone calls louder. Others are used in theaters or places of worship to help you hear better.
Learning to read lips may help you understand what people are saying better. With training, you can learn how to do this.
Your doctor may suggest that you wear earplugs to protect your ears when you mow the lawn, go to concerts or go places where the noise is too loud. This can help to prevent even more hearing loss.
Further reading: How is hearing loss tested -- 3 different tests and what you can learn from each.