Tests to diagnose hearing loss may include:
- Physical exam. Your doctor will look in your ear for possible causes of your hearing loss, such as earwax or inflammation from an infection. Your doctor will also look for any structural causes of your hearing problems.
- General screening tests. Your doctor may ask you to cover one ear at a time to see how well you hear words spoken at various volumes and how you respond to other sounds.
- Tuning fork tests. Tuning forks are two-pronged, metal instruments that produce sounds when struck. Simple tests with tuning forks can help your doctor detect hearing loss. A tuning fork evaluation may also reveal whether hearing loss is caused by damage to the vibrating parts of your middle ear (including your eardrum), damage to sensors or nerves of your inner ear, or damage to both.
Audiometer tests. During these more-thorough tests conducted by an audiologist, you wear earphones and hear sounds directed to one ear at a time. The audiologist presents a range of sounds of various tones and asks you to indicate each time you hear the sound.
Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find out when you can barely hear. The audiologist will also present various words to determine your hearing ability.
If you have hearing problems, help is available. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your hearing loss.
- Removing wax blockage. Earwax blockage is a reversible cause of hearing loss. Your doctor may remove earwax by loosening it with oil and then flushing, scooping or suctioning out the softened wax.
- Surgical procedures. Surgery may be necessary if you've had a traumatic ear injury or repeated infections that require the insertion of small tubes that help the ears drain.
- Hearing aids. If your hearing loss is due to damage to your inner ear, a hearing aid can help by making sounds stronger and easier for you to hear. An audiologist can discuss with you the potential benefits of using a hearing aid, recommend a device and fit you with it.
- Cochlear implants. If you have severe hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be an option for you. Unlike a hearing aid that amplifies sound and directs it into your ear canal, a cochlear implant compensates for damaged or nonworking parts of your inner ear. If you're considering a cochlear implant, your audiologist, along with a medical doctor who specializes in disorders of the ears, nose and throat (ENT), can discuss the risks and benefits with you.
Benefits of treatment
Getting treatment can improve your quality of life dramatically. People who use hearing aids report these benefits:
- Greater self-confidence
- Closer relationships with loved ones
- Improved outlook on life, overall
- Less depression
Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.
Coping and support
These tips can help you to communicate more easily despite your hearing loss:
- Position yourself to hear. Face the person with whom you're having a conversation.
- Turn off background noise. For example, noise from a television may interfere with conversation.
- Ask others to speak clearly. Most people will be helpful if they know you're having trouble hearing them.
- Choose quiet settings. In public, such as in a restaurant or at a social gathering, choose a place to talk that's away from noisy areas.
- Consider using an assistive listening device. Hearing devices, such as TV-listening systems or telephone-amplifying devices, can help you hear better while decreasing other noises around you. Telephone service over the Internet — known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) — transmits more frequencies from human speech than does standard telephone service, which may make it easier to hear during phone calls.
Preparing for your appointment
If you suspect you may have hearing loss, call your doctor. After an initial evaluation, your doctor may refer you to a hearing specialist (audiologist).
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment and to know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- List any symptoms you're experiencing, and for how long. Is the hearing loss in one ear or both? Ask your loved ones to help you make the list. Friends and family may have noticed changes that aren't obvious to you, but they may be important for your doctor to know.
- Write down key medical information, especially related to any problems you've had with your ears. Your doctor will want to know about chronic infections, injury to your ear or previous ear surgery. Also list any medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking.
- Summarize your work history, including any jobs, even those in the distant past, that exposed you to high noise levels.
- Take a family member or friend along. Someone who accompanies you can help you remember all of the information the doctor provides.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor. Having a list of questions in advance can help you make the most of your time with your doctor.
For hearing loss, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- Other than the most likely cause, what else might be causing my symptoms?
- What tests do you recommend?
- Should I stop taking any of my current medications?
- Should I see a specialist?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
- How would you describe your symptoms? Do you have pain in the affected ear?
- Did your symptoms come on suddenly?
- Do you have ringing, roaring or hissing in your ears?
- Do your symptoms include dizziness or balance problems?
- Do you have a history of ear infections, ear trauma or ear surgery?
- Have you ever worked in a job that exposed you to loud noise, flown airplanes or been in combat in the military?
- Does your family complain that you turn up the volume of the television or radio too high?
- Do you have trouble understanding someone who is talking to you in a low voice?
- Do you have trouble understanding someone who is speaking to you on the telephone?
- Do you frequently need to ask others to speak up or repeat themselves during conversation? Does this happen more frequently in a noisy setting, such as a crowded restaurant?
- Can you hear a coin hitting the floor or a door closing?
- Can you hear when someone approaches you from behind?
- If your hearing is impaired, does it bother you or affect your quality of life?
- Would you be willing to use a hearing aid if needed?
Hearing loss care at Mayo Clinic
Sept. 03, 2015
- Lasak JM, et al. Hearing loss: Diagnosis and management. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2014;41:19.
- Weber PC. Etiology of hearing loss in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 1, 2015.
- Age-related hearing loss. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/Pages/Age-Related-Hearing-Loss.aspx. Accessed July 2, 2015.
- Longo DL, et al. Disorders of hearing. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2015. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed July 1, 2015.
- Common sounds. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/education/teachers/pages/common_sounds.aspx. Accessed July 2, 2015.
- Noise and hearing loss prevention: Noise meter. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/noisemeter.html. Accessed July 2, 2015.
- Occupational noise exposure. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=standards&p_id=9735. Accessed July 2, 2015.
- Weber PC. Evaluation of hearing loss in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 1, 2015.
- Cook AJ. Decision Support System. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 22, 2015.