Hearing difficulties are a common problem that affects both the young and old. Infants and young children often don’t realize they are having a problem and it falls to the parents and other caregivers to raise suspicion. Adults may notice a sudden change, which can constitute a medical emergency, or a more gradual change over many months or years.
Sometimes the problem is simple such as ear wax or middle ear fluid from a head cold. At other times, there is damage to the inner ear. This can result from noise exposure, recurrent infections, certain medical conditions or hereditary factors, just to name a few.
Although an evaluation may start with a screening test at work or in the primary care doctor’s office, a visit to an ear, nose and throat specialist is where the most comprehensive testing can occur. After examination, a complete audiologic evaluation is performed. This will determine the nature of the hearing loss and guide further testing or treatment. In my practice, these tests are performed by highly trained audiologists with master’s degrees. Older children and adults are evaluated in a hearing booth where they are asked to respond to sounds and words the audiologist introduces. We test infants and young children with both involuntary measurements (otoacoustic emissions) and play testing.
Treatment may be as simple as improved techniques for listening, corrective surgery, or the use of hearing aids. Once the exact cause of the loss is determined, I can guide the patient. Although I do not dispense hearing aids, I can make a referral to highly skilled audiologists with state-of-the-art products.