Healthy Living

“It’s not me, it’s you:” How to tell if it’s time for a hearing test

For people experiencing hearing loss, sometimes it’s all about denial.

“That hits the nail right on the head,” said Dr. Sarah King, an audiologist with Augusta University Audiology Associates. “It’s very common for people experiencing the loss of this sense to think that it’s everyone else who has the problem.”

While it’s true that hearing loss can be a result of aging, it’s also true that it can affect anyone at any age. So if you find yourself asking others to repeat themselves, can’t hear well in a crowded setting, keep turning up the television or radio, and ask yourself, “Why is everyone else mumbling?,” it’s probably time to get your hearing checked.

And please don’t be like the average person: “On average, it can take up to seven years from the time someone notices hearing loss to when they seek treatment,” King said. “That’s a lot of conversations and memories you’re missing.”

Take the test

“Approximately 37.5 million Americans or 15 percent of those ages 18 and over report some trouble hearing,” said Dr. Mohammad Seyyedi, an otologic surgeon at Augusta University Audiology Associates. “And nearly 25 percent of those ages 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.”

Along with the aging process, a noisy job environment, genetics, trauma and middle or inner ear infections can all affect your hearing. If you’re at risk or have already noticed a problem, a hearing test may be right for you.

The test is easy, pain-free and takes only 30 minutes. During the test, you’ll sit inside a sound-proof booth and put on earphones and later a special headband. An audiologist will play a series of tones in varying levels of softness to loudness to see how you hear throughout your entire ear – outer, middle and inner. Speech testing will also be conducted to determine how well you hear speech at different loudness levels.

Do I need to have a hearing aid if I have hearing loss?

The answer is, not necessarily.

“Depending on the type of hearing loss, treatment can vary from surgery to hearing aids to cochlear implantation,” Seyyedi said.

Surgery may be needed if there is a perforation on the eardrum or a problem in the middle ear such as erosion of the small hearing bones inside the ear.

Hearing aids may be recommended for different types of hearing loss, including sensorineural, conductive or mixed. Today’s hearing aids are small, sleek and nearly invisible.

“It’s like moving from a tank to a Ferrari,” Seyyedi said, describing the change in hearing aids of 10 years ago to today.

Some models even have Bluetooth capability, which allows you adjust them via an app on your smartphone. In some patients with a moderate to severe hearing loss in one ear, a bone-anchored hearing aid is another option, which requires surgery.

A cochlear implant (CI) is for patients with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears, which can’t be aided by a simple hearing aid. The placement of a CI requires an outpatient surgery done by an ear surgeon. After surgery, patients retrain their hearing through a series of listening exercises. Patients who have had normal hearing before may initially feel that sounds “sound” different with a cochlear implant. It’s because you actually do hear differently following the implant, which directly stimulates the auditory nerve. This is in contrast to normal hearing, in which sounds waves set off a chain reaction of vibrations that eventually lead to the auditory nerve.

Still, Seyyedi emphasizes, “The most important thing for patients to do if they think they are losing their hearing is to get their hearing tested. Being isolated from their community, being embarrassed to take part in conversation, no longer enjoying music or listening to their grandchildren – with so many options available, there’s no reason to miss out.”

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About the author

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.