Why regular hearing exams help your health

Why regular hearing exams help your health

Hearing tests are essential for keeping you healthy and socially connected.

Young boy whispers in older man's ear

Hearing tests are essential for keeping you healthy and socially connected. Even if you protect your ears by avoiding exposure to loud noises, hearing loss can sneak up on you. That’s why it’s critical to get yearly hearing exams as part of your routine health maintenance. It’s easy and inexpensive to do. 

Here are things you’ll want to know about hearing impairment and how regular exams can keep your ears doing their job.

Hearing loss is common among older adults

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. This isn’t something you just have to live with, and taking action is important.

“Untreated hearing loss is associated with many other health conditions, such as dementia, diabetes, falling, and depression,” says Alexandra Costlow, doctor of audiology (AuD) and audiology outreach and communications coordinator in the department of otolaryngology at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia. Even mild hearing loss can affect your life. Staying on top of your hearing health may help you avoid cognitive decline and keep you from feeling irritable, angry, and fatigued.

Keeping up with hearing exams can help you stay independent, safe, and socially connected. If you can’t hear conversations, you may get embarrassed and frustrated and eventually withdraw from your usual activities. That can lead to increased stress and isolation.

Hearing impairment often develops gradually

If you have sudden hearing changes or hearing loss with dizziness or imbalance, you should get your hearing tested within 72 hours, says Costlow. However, many people have hearing loss that worsens gradually. As a result, they’re not aware of it until the problem has advanced beyond easy treatment.

By getting your hearing checked yearly, you’ll have an objective measure of how well you’re currently hearing, so you can address any potential issues right away. “It’s also useful to have a baseline test to refer back to in the event that a change in hearing occurs in the future,” says Costlow. She says it’s important to schedule an exam if you notice any of these common signs of hearing loss:

  • You have difficulty understanding other people’s speech.
  • You routinely ask others to repeat themselves.
  • You can’t hear well when background noise is present.
  • You regularly turn up the volume on the television and other devices.
  • You’re avoiding social interaction because it’s hard to follow the conversation.
  • You have ringing or a sensation of fullness in your ears.

A hearing exam pinpoints the exact cause of hearing loss

Factors that can lead to hearing impairment include impacted earwax, chronic ear infections, fluid behind the eardrum in the middle ear, and certain medications. “A formal hearing exam is used to diagnose the type and degree of hearing loss and may also reveal an asymmetry or difference in hearing between the ears,” says Costlow. Depending on your exam results, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist for further evaluation.

According to Costlow, a hearing exam typically includes the following:

  • Otoscopy: Examines the outer ear, ear canal, and tympanic membrane (eardrum)
  • Tympanometry: Tests ear pressure and identifies whether fluid is present
  • Word discrimination test: Pinpoints your understanding of speech clarity
  • Audiogram: Determines the type and degree of hearing loss

Early detection increases your odds of successful treatment

“Hearing exams help in identifying hearing loss, but that’s only half the battle,” says Costlow. “The other important component is to treat aid-able hearing loss with hearing devices.” Using appropriate hearing aids is key to keeping the brain active and staying engaged with your family and friends. An audiologist can guide you through the process of getting one that works for you.

“It’s important to treat hearing loss sooner rather than later — don’t wait until the hearing loss is severe,” says Costlow.