(BPT) - As we age, we know to ask our doctors certain questions about our health, such as, 'What should I know about preventing heart disease?' or 'Are my cholesterol levels too high?' But another common condition that we need to start asking about is hearing loss. Here are some questions you should ask your general practitioner to learn more about your hearing health and how best to preserve it.
1. Do I have hearing loss?
A variety of conditions cause or contribute to hearing loss, and it can affect anyone of any age. But the most common causes are excessive noise exposure and the aging process. Oftentimes, hearing loss comes on very slowly - so much so that you might not even notice it's happening. Your primary care physician will be able to check your hearing or refer you to a hearing care professional for more comprehensive testing and treatment.
2. When should I get my hearing checked?
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends adults should be screened for hearing loss at least every decade through age 50, and at three-year intervals thereafter. While this is a general guideline, your doctor can advise if your medical or family history indicates a need for closer monitoring of your hearing.
3. How can I prevent hearing loss?
While there is no way to prevent hearing loss completely, you can take measures to reduce your risks. First and foremost, use hearing protection and minimize exposure to loud noise or music. Your doctor will also be able to provide additional advice, such as how quitting smoking and reducing excessive consumption of alcohol can help you maintain healthy hearing.
4. What are my chances of getting hearing loss?
Besides noise exposure, a person's risk for hearing loss is also related to family history as well as a variety of lifestyle and medical factors. Your doctors will be the best person to determine if you may be at higher risk.
5. Is hearing loss reversible?
Sometimes it is. For example, hearing can be restored if an underlying middle ear disorder is corrected. Hearing loss caused by ototoxic drugs sometimes improves if you switch to another medication. Unfortunately, the majority of hearing losses are caused by noise exposure and/or aging, and are irreversible. Your doctor will be able to tell you more based on an assessment of your specific conditions.
6. What should I do if I have hearing loss?
As mentioned earlier, a variety of factors can cause or contribute to hearing loss. If you are diagnosed as having hearing loss, the first step would be for your doctor to determine if it is due to a medical condition or another factor, such as the side effects of a prescribed medication. Then they can recommend an appropriate course of treatment.
7. What kind of hearing losses are there?
Hearing loss is typically categorized based on degree, frequency (or pitch), and the anatomical origin of the impairment. For example, a common diagnosis is 'mild to moderate, high frequency sensorineural hearing loss.' The term sensorineural indicates the hearing loss is caused by problems in the cochlea (the sensory organ for hearing) or the nerves that transmit sound sensations to your brain. Your doctor will be able to tell you more.
8. What is tinnitus?
Although we're talking about hearing loss, it's also important to bring up any symptoms of tinnitus (i.e., ringing in the ears) with your doctor. Hearing loss and tinnitus often go hand-in-hand because they share many of the same causes. In fact, chronic tinnitus is almost always accompanied by hearing loss. Learning more about tinnitus and informing your doctor if you experience tinnitus is always a good idea.
9. Who should I go to if I have hearing loss?
If hearing loss is suspected, your general practitioner may direct you to an otolaryngologist (ENT) or audiologist for further evaluation. Once any underlying medical conditions have been ruled out, they will discuss further treatment options. If you're told to consider getting hearing aids, audiologists or hearing instrument specialists can provide further assistance.
10. Will insurance cover the cost of my hearing test and/or hearing aids?
Insurance coverage options vary widely, depending on the state in which you live, whether you're on Medicare or Medicaid, if you have a Medicare supplementary plan, and more. The only way to be sure of what your insurance will or won't cover is to review your specific coverage with your insurer. Most hearing care professionals are well-versed in what plans like Medicare, Medicare supplements, and Medicaid will cover, and many can offer alternative financing options should you lack sufficient coverage.