Knowing what to expect at your first hearing aid test appointment will help you benchmark your expectations against the actual service you receive. Paul Harrison from Hearing Aid UK has had 15 years in the hearing aid industry and supports hearing aid users not only in the UK, but also the US and Australia. Today he offers his tips and advice to prepare you for that all important appointment.
First, when choosing an audiologist, make sure the person has the proper training and is certified by a government organization. He or she should be happy to tell you their experience and qualifications.
At your first appointment, before your hearing test begins, audiologists generally ask you a series of questions about your hearing and general health. They will need to know if there is a family history of hearing loss or if you have suffered an injury or illness which could have caused hearing damage. They will also ask some lifestyle questions to see if there are any activities such as swimming or going to concerts, which could be affecting your hearing.
They will check your ears for any signs of illness or infection which could be affecting your hearing using an otoscope. This is a small magnifying glass with a light on the end which lets the audiologist see down the ear canal and the eardrum. This should not hurt, and if you do feel any pain you should tell them immediately, an inflamed or sore ear canal is a sign of infection.
Your audiologist will carry out a series of hearing tests, these will determine the level of hearing loss you have as well as whether your hearing loss is conductive (due to a blockage or damage to the ear preventing sound from getting through to the inner ear) or sensorineural (due to nerve damage in the inner ear)
During the hearing test, tones of different frequencies will be played to you through headphones. When you hear the sound you will be asked to either press a button or raise your hand. To test how well you hear in noise, a rushing sound will be played alongside the tones. Two sets of headphones will be used during the hearing test. One set will fit over your ears. A different set will be placed on the bone either behind or in front of your ears. This is a bone conduction test to see how well the nerves in your inner ear are working.
If there is a difference in results between the headphones on ears test and the bone conduction test then you may have conductive hearing loss. This means that the nerves are working well but something is preventing the sound from getting though. This could be caused by a build up of wax or a damaged eardrum. You may be sent for a CT scan or an MRI to clarify what the problem is.
If both results are the same, the hearing loss is likely to be due to nerve damage or natural nerve cell death as part of the aging process.
The results of the test will be plotted on a chart called an audiogram. This will show the frequencies or pitches in Hertz (Hz) that you can hear, and how loud in decibels (dB) the sound has to be before you can hear it, these are your hearing thresholds.
Ask your audiologist to go through your audiogram with you, if you do have hearing loss they will be able to tell you whether it is mild, moderate or more severe. Your level of hearing loss could determine the style of hearing aid you can use. Some hearing aids have programs specially designed for high frequency loss called sound compression, which lower the sounds and bring them within an audible range. Others have lots of channels to process each sound and make it clearer. Talk to your audiologist about which programs would work the best for you and your lifestyle. Ask for a copy of your audiogram for your own records.
Your audiologist will talk to you about the types of hearing aids which are suitable for your hearing loss. They may even have a sample one which you can try out. Some of the very small, invisible in canal styles are unsuitable for those with severe and profound hearing loss. The smaller invisible styles are also less likely to have certain features due to their size, such as directional microphones, so check with your audiologist whether the features you want are available in the styles which you prefer.
Depending on the style of hearing aid you choose, you may need to have a mold made of your ear. The hearing aid specialist will make a mold of your ear using soft putty. This may be just the outer shell of your ear if you are having a larger style, or they will put the putty further into your ear canal for the smaller styles. While this may feel very strange it won’t hurt and only takes a few minutes.
If your ear canal is very narrow or small you may not be able to wear the smaller, invisible in the ear styles.
If you are having a mold made, you will need to make another appointment for a fitting. If you are having a behind the ear style with an open fitting you may not need to wait.
When your hearing aids are fitted for the first time everything may sound too loud and uncomfortable. This is perfectly normal. Your audiologist will program the hearing aids to compensate for your level of hearing loss. If you have been without good hearing for a while, it may take a little time to adjust to normal hearing levels again, so you need to make sure that you wear them as much as possible.
Ask your audiologist to go through the program settings with you, some hearing aids come with a remote control so you don’t need to fiddle around with buttons or dials. It may also feel very odd having something in your ear, although this will soon pass. If it is very uncomfortable, tell your audiologist, you may not have put it in correctly and they can help you to adjust it.
Book a follow up appointment with your audiologist so they can see how you are getting on with your new hearing aids, and resolve any issues which arise in the first few weeks.