Hearing aids are an important and serious investment to make. These devices are capable of helping you regain your old lifestyle and reconnect with the world around you. If you feel you might have hearing loss, the first step to treatment is scheduling and appointment with a hearing care provider.

Your hearing screening

During your appointment with your hearing specialist, you will provide a medical background, answer questions regarding your hearing issues and then undergo a hearing test. Many types of screenings exist, one being an otoacoustic-emissions (OAC) test. Your hearing care provider will walk through the various tests and steps with you before administering them.

The testing process

A common test used by hearing providers is OAC-emissions testing. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), OAC-emissions are sounds emitted by the ear when the cochlea — the spiral cavity of the inner ear — is stimulated by sound. When the cochlea is stimulated, the outer hair cells of the ear vibrate. The vibration produces a very quiet, almost inaudible, sound, which echoes to the back of the middle ear.

That barely inaudible sound is tested during OAC-emissions testing. People who do not have hearing loss produce normal emissions. Individuals with hearing loss greater than 25-30 decibels do not produce these sounds.

The test is performed by placing a small and flexible probe into an ear. The probe includes a microphone, which detects the OAC emissions.  Additionally, the test can detect any blockage in the outer ear canal, any middle ear fluid and potential damage to the outer hair cells in the cochlea. The test has its limitations however, as it cannot distinguish between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. The test is part of the newborn hearing-screening program, a nationwide effort to test all newborns for hearing loss.

Understanding the results

The results of the test will inform the ENT of the degree of hearing loss you suffer from. With this information he or she can begin recommending hearing aids or other devices to enhance your hearing. 

More than 48 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss, and the likelihood of developing hearing loss increases as we age. Hearing loss creates issues beyond asking people to repeat themselves during a conversation; it can lead to depression, isolation and cognitive decline. Because of this, it is important to schedule your appointment to determine the degree of your hearing loss and, more importantly, what devices will enhance your hearing.