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Hearing testing is a funny thing, no really it is funny. Many people have this preconceived notion that they do not want and will not get their hearing tested. It is likely because they do not want to “know” if they have a hearing loss even if they struggle to hear daily (or are reminded by loved ones that they have trouble hearing hourly…)
There are many more reasons why people do not get their hearing tested and I hope to remove at least one of those reasons with this blog: the unknown. Many people do not know how a hearing test is completed. I will describe how an adult’s hearing is tested and hopefully make you laugh as well by throwing in a few funny stories.
A proper hearing test typically starts with questions regarding your health in general, and your ears in particular (history of ear infections? ear surgery? etc.) We typically ask if you have trouble hearing, which may seem like a moot point but is actually fairly important. It will help the audiologist judge if you have accepted the fact you have hearing loss (the test will show later), and also in which situations you have trouble hearing. This helps us get to know where you may want help hearing. When asking a man if he has trouble hearing he’ll answer “only my wife” or “my wife thinks so” or if she is in the room we will hear about his “selective hearing.” The case history is nothing to worry about; we don’t ask anything TOO personal or embarrassing. A proper case history typically takes about 5 minutes.
Next, believe it or not, we like to look into people’s ears! Using our little handheld “ear flashlight” we can obtain a lot of information. Proper otoscopy starts on the external ear and continues all the way to the eardrum or if anything can be visualized beyond in the middle ear as well. The jokesters will typically ask if I can see “all the way through” or “if the light hits the wall on the other side.”
We look for anything out of the ordinary, including excessive earwax. Many people think using cotton-tipped swabs (one particular popular brand is Q-tips) in their ear canals helps clean it out. (Just a quick aside, Q-Tip is a mighty fine product and has many great uses, just not poking in the ear!) Many people use cotton-tipped swabs in their ear and when they pull them out they see a tiny bit of wax or the colour of wax on the cotton and say “got it!” Well, actually you most likely just soaked up good oils in your ear and pushed the wax deeper in your ear like a plunger…. I have personally taken a “piece” of wax out of someone’s ear that uses cotton-tipped swabs that was the size of my pinky finger (I have the photo proof!)
Sorry, I need to apologize, this section was about otoscopy and I have gone off on a tangent about cotton swabs. Looking into someone ear can give us clues about the status of the eardrum, if it has a hole in it, or if there is pressure present in the middle ear. We also look for signs of ear infection or foreign bodies. It is quite amazing what people can hide in their ears! I have seen hearing aid parts, insects and a toy bead.
The next blog will continue with describing the tests we perform to assess an adult’s hearing. If you have questions about what’s involved in a hearing test or want to share your experiences with having a hearing test, please leave me a comment.
Sean Brac, Audiolgist