Current recommendations for people with diabetes do not include hearing tests, but a yearly hearing test would provide an opportunity to monitor any changes in hearing that have occurred since the previous test and to determine whether those changes are greater than hearing changes typically expected with aging. If you have concerns about your hearing, talk to your health-care provider about having your hearing tested.
Changes in the ability to hear and understand speech can lead to undesirable changes in lifestyle. A person may begin to avoid social situations such as restaurants or meetings, where hearing and understanding speech is an important part of the experience. It may be frustrating for a person to watch TV when he must struggle to understand the dialogue. For people with hearing loss, listening can become a chore, rather than a pleasure. In many cases, however, a hearing aid or an assistive device can improve a person’s ability to hear and communicate.
There are three types of hearing health professionals to turn to for assistance when hearing becomes a problem: physicians, audiologists, and hearing aid specialists. Physicians diagnose and provide medical care for conditions that contribute to hearing loss. Doctors who specialize in conditions of the ears, nose, and throat are known as otolaryngologists, while those who specialize in conditions of the ear specifically are known as otologists. Certified clinical audiologists are trained in the prevention and diagnosis of conditions that affect hearing and can provide nonmedical treatment, including the selection of hearing aids. Hearing aid specialists, the third category of hearing professional, are trained to fit and dispense hearing aids and to provide follow-up care once someone has received a hearing aid. (See “Resources” for more information about how to get help for hearing loss.)
It is important that you identify which of these professionals is best suited to address your hearing needs. It is also important that the professional you choose demonstrates an ability and willingness to make referrals to another expert if your needs cannot be met by the one you have chosen to consult.
Most states require you to have a physician examine your ears before you are fitted with a hearing aid. This is a precaution to rule out a disease or malformation of the hearing structures that could be treated with medicines or surgery. In some states, you can waive this requirement by signing a form stating that you do not wish to have a medical examination. However, if there are indications that special medical treatment may be needed, your audiologist will require that you see a medical doctor. (If necessary, the physician will provide a further referral.) If you do not need special medical treatment, your audiologist can evaluate your hearing problems through a number of tests and recommend a course of action and type of hearing aid, if needed. While you can obtain a routine hearing test in a doctor’s office or from a hearing aid specialist, only an audiologist is qualified to conduct additional tests such as central auditory processing tests and electrophysiologic tests, which evaluate how sounds are processed beyond the cochlea.
Hearing aids and assistive devices
The basic function of a hearing aid is to amplify sound, but today’s hearing aids use sophisticated technology to reduce background noise, the primary complaint of hearing aid users. However, this technology can also affect the quality of speech heard through the hearing aid. The “processed” sound is often unfamiliar. Some people may benefit from the more sophisticated, complex (and expensive) processing while others may do just as well with more traditional hearing aids. Your audiologist should have a wide range of hearing aids from which to choose, so that he can recommend the most appropriate device for your needs.