For most people, hearing loss occurs slowly over a long period of time. The slow onset of hearing loss means that many people don’t even notice they have hearing loss until the people around them point it out. For others, hearing loss comes on suddenly—even overnight. If you think you may have hearing loss, here are steps to help you determine if your hearing loss is real and what you can do about it.
Step 1: Talk to Your Loved Ones
If you haven’t already discussed the matter with your family, now is a good time to start the conversation. Chances are, many of them have already noticed that you have difficulty hearing. Talking openly with your loved ones can provide a support system for you as you seek to address and correct your hearing loss.
Step 2: List Your Symptoms
Before seeing a doctor or hearing specialist, start by identifying your symptoms. The more you can tell your healthcare provider about the nature and circumstances of your hearing difficulty, the better they’ll be able to diagnose and provide solutions.
To get started, go through this list of questions and mark all the true statements.
Step 3: Check with Your Health Insurance
Although you may be tempted to go directly to a healthcare provider to address your hearing loss, it’s a good idea to call your insurance plan first to see if they cover or provide discounts on hearing aids and exams. Because coverage for treating hearing loss is becoming more common, checking with your health plan before you schedule a hearing exam could save you time and money.
There are a handful of ways a health plan may help you cover the cost of treatment. Some will cover exams, but not hearing aids. Some will cover hearing aids, but not exams. Some may offer an allowance or a discount program. Here are the most common ways that health plans help you save money on hearing aids:
Hearing aid benefit
The health plan offers you a fixed copayment for hearing aids and/or exams that is lower than the full cost of the devices and services. For example, if your health plan gives you a $699 copay on a hearing aid, you will pay that exact amount for the hearing aid you choose—no matter the retail price.
Hearing aid allowance
An allowance is a fixed amount that the health plan will pay toward the cost of hearing aids. For example, if your health plan offers you a $2,000 allowance for hearing aids, they will cover the cost up to $2,000. Then you’re responsible for covering any cost over the $2,000 allowance.
Hearing aid discounts
Alternatively, many health plans that don’t offer coverage or an allowance may offer discounts for their members as a valued-added service through third-party programs. For example, TruHearing is a program that works closely with manufacturers and health plans to lower the cost of hearing aids so you can get the latest, brand-name hearing aids at up to 60% off the average retail price without sacrificing quality or services.
A special note about Medicare: Original Medicare doesn’t cover any of the cost of hearing aids, or provide an allowance, copay, or discount. However, because hearing aid coverage is a popular feature for Medicare members, many Medicare Advantage plans do offer some form of hearing aid coverage.
Step 4: Get a Hearing Exam
Once you’ve identified that you most likely have hearing loss and have talked to your insurance company about potential coverage, the next step is to get a full confirmation and diagnosis. It’s time to visit an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist for a full hearing exam. A hearing exam will determine the exact nature of your hearing loss and how it can best be addressed.
Your hearing loss will fall into one of three types, which will determine the method of treatment.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is the result of a blockage or impediment that physically prevents sound from entering your ear and reaching the nerves of your inner ear that transmit sound signals to the brain. Conductive loss can be caused by:
- Impacted ear wax
- Ruptured ear drum
- Infection or fluid in the ear
- A foreign object
- Physical deformation of the ear
Sometimes a conductive hearing loss can be corrected through a medical or surgical procedure. For example, impacted ear wax can be removed, a raptured ear drum can be fixed. However, not all conductive hearing loss can be corrected and may require the use of hearing aids to partially restore your hearing.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is the result of a deterioration of the inner ear’s ability to correctly process sound. It can be caused by:
- Medications that damage the auditory system
- Injury or accident
- Intense noise
This type of hearing loss is generally permanent but can be addressed with hearing aids.
Mixed Hearing Loss
As the name suggests, mixed hearing loss is any combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Some of the hearing loss may be addressed surgically, but mixed hearing loss will generally involve permanent hearing loss and treatment with hearing aids.
Step 5: Choose Your Hearing Aids
If your hearing exam determines you need hearing aids, you’ll have a discussion with your provider about which hearing aids will best address your unique hearing loss. Depending on the type and severity of your hearing loss, you may consider a number of options.
Here are some factors that may determine the type and style of hearing aid you’ll need:
- The severity of your hearing loss
- The type of your hearing loss
- Your age and lifestyle
- Physical factors, like dexterity
- Your technology preferences; for example, do you want your hearing aids to connect to your smartphone?
If You’re Not Ready for Hearing Aids
Not everyone who has hearing loss is ready to get hearing aids. There are number of factors to consider, and it’s a big decision. If you are not ready for hearing aids right now, there are a number of strategies and tips that you can start to use in your life to improve your communication until you’re ready.
Tips for You:
- Avoid noisy environments when you are trying to have a conversation, and don’t be afraid to ask your conversation partner to move to a location where you can hear them better.
- Look for visual cues, like gestures or facial expressions, to glean context and fill in missing bits of conversation.
- Admit when you don’t understand something, and ask the speaker to rephrase their statement.
- Ask people to write down important information.
- Keep your sense of humor and be patient with yourself and others.
- Express appreciation with others who are trying to accommodate you.
Tips for your family, friends, and coworkers:
- Get my attention before speaking and face me directly when you speak.
- If I don’t understand something the first time you say it, rephrase your statement instead of talking louder. Raising your voice can distort your speech and make it harder to understand you.
- Please have patience, slow down, and speak clearly.
- Indicate when you are changing subjects.
- Let’s avoid noisy situations.
Whether you’re ready to address your hearing loss, or you need more time, keep in mind that you are not alone. There are over 48 million Americans with hearing loss—and nearly 1/3 of people over 60 have hearing loss.
However, if you’re putting off treatment, don’t wait too long. Hearing aids provide a number of positive health and social benefits that you can take advantage of right now—even if your hearing loss is not severe. Alternatively, putting off treatment can have unintended negative consequences on your hearing that will make it harder for you to hear down the road, even with the help of hearing aids.
When in doubt about the right time and manner to address your hearing loss, ask a provider for help and guidance. They’ll help you make the right decisions to address hearing loss in a way that’s right for you.