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Problems Hearing? When Is It Time to See a Doctor?

Hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, affecting more than 31 million Americans. Hearing loss affects children and adults, and the incidence of hearing loss increases with age. Nearly one-third of individuals over the age of 65 have hearing loss, and half of those over 75 have significant hearing loss.
Hearing is one of our five key senses, and is important in many facets of our life. It is our primary mode of communicating with the world around us.

Signs of hearing loss include:

  • You often ask people to repeat themselves
  • You have difficulty understanding a conversation in a large group or in restaurants
  • People seem to mumble more frequently
  • Your family complains that you have the TV on loudly
  • You have trouble hearing when you are not looking directly at the speaker
  • You have been told that you speak too loudly
  • You have trouble understanding the speech of women and children

Diagnosis: Hearing loss is a medical condition. Patients who suspect they may have a hearing problem should be evaluated by a physician. The problem may be simply ear wax, blocking sound from conducting to the eardrum.

However, other medical conditions, including inner ear disorders, infections and even tumors, can also cause hearing loss. Thus, it is important to have a medical evaluation by a doctor – typically an Otologist (Ear physician/surgeon) or an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose & Throat doctor). The physician will do a complete examination, remove ear wax, and order a hearing test. Two common tests are audiograms and tympanometry. An audiogram is a test used to measure how well a person hears. The tympanogram is a test done to evaluate the ear drum and middle ear (space behind the ear drum).

Causes: Getting a hearing test can tell you if you have a hearing loss, but only a physician can diagnose the exact cause and recommend appropriate treatment. Hearing loss has numerous causes. Although age-related hearing loss is common, patients should not purchase hearing aids without a physician’s advice. The FDA requires that all hearing aid users be medically evaluated and have a written statement from the physician, clearing them for hearing aid usage.

Treatment: There are many excellent solutions to treat hearing loss, including medication, surgery (implantable hearing devices, cochlear implants), hearing aids, and assistive listening devices. Improved hearing health has been associated with improvements in the social, emotional, and physical well being of people with hearing loss.

Dr. Kato is the founder of The Ear Institute in Palm Desert and can be reached at 760-565-3900.

Source: National Institute of Health website: www.nlm.nih.gov.Text: Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Bailey, ed.

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