As with so many things regarding your health, when and how often to get your hearing tested depends on your personal situation. If you have a family history of hearing loss, or work a job that exposes you to large amounts of loud noise, you’ll want to be more diligent about hearing tests than someone without such factors to consider. In general, you should try to get your hearing checked every few years, starting as early as childhood. You get your eyes checked every two years, so why not your ears?
A baseline hearing test is, essentially, a snapshot of your hearing at a given point in time. Since most hearing loss is driven by environmental factors and the aging process, it can take quite some time to develop, so having that baseline information in your medical records gives physicians and audiologists a level to measure against in the future, should you begin to notice a change in your hearing down the line.
That baseline test is an important step toward maintaining healthy hearing for the long term, so make sure you have it done properly. Most doctor’s offices don’t have the equipment to administer a state-of-the-art hearing test, so be sure to ask for a referral to a certified audiologist, who can assess your hearing thoroughly and provide your doctor with an excellent baseline reference to use in watching for signs of future hearing loss.
The nuts and bolts of having your hearing tested
Here’s what you should expect during your (very easy and pain-free) hearing test:
Personal History Discussion
Your hearing care provider will want to know everything he or she can about the roles sound and volume play in your lifestyle. You’ll also be asked about your overall health and various aspects of well-being that have been found to have a connection to healthy hearing.
Visual examination of the outer ear, ear canal and eardrum, using an otoscope
Tympanometer testing of the eardrum and the vibration-conducting bones of the middle ear
Audiometry that gauges your ability to hear sounds at various frequencies
Discuss ways to help improve hearing health moving forward, along with hearing aid information if needed
Depending on your results, your audiologist will either, 1) recommend treatment for any significant hearing loss that is found, 2) counsel you on lifestyle changes that are endangering your hearing, 3) tell you that your hearing is fine and give you some advice on how to keep it that way.
All of the above should take somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on how in-depth you go with the consultation part of the testing.
Beyond the baseline
If your baseline hearing test shows signs of hearing loss—if your results are different at a statistically significant level from others of your relative age and health—your audiologist may suggest further tests during your consultation. If you test at an acceptable level, there’s no need to do anything else until your situation changes.
Which brings us to this question: How do you know when that change occurs?
As we’ve mentioned before, hearing loss tends to develop gradually. People can go for years, reflexively compensating for gradually increasing hearing loss, until it becomes a significant quality-of-life issue. Older adults, or those suffering from hearing loss, should get their hearing tested annually.
Also, research has shown enough connections between hearing issues and other aspects of overall health to justify annual hearing tests. For instance, given the sensitivity of hearing to blood flow, certain cardiovascular problems may very well be signaled by impaired hearing before they’re noticed elsewhere in the body.
Should children and teenagers have hearing tests?
Most children tend to have hearing tests as a matter of course at birth and during their elementary school years, but there hasn’t been as much focus on hearing tests for pre-adults. In today’s era of personal electronics, however, it may be a very prudent move to get a baseline hearing test done earlier than adulthood. If you have a teenager who spends a lot of time wearing earbuds or earphones, listening to loud music and playing raucous video games, finding out if those high-volume activities are taking an early toll on their hearing may turn out to be one of the most important things you ever do as a parent.