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September 2023

Testing, Testing: Do Your Ears Need a Sound Check?

One in 3 Americans older than age 65 has some hearing loss. If you’re not hearing as well as you once did, you can take steps to manage the issue so that it doesn’t limit your life.

That’s important, because when you ignore a hearing problem, it can make you feel isolated. You might have trouble carrying on a conversation or ordering in a restaurant. Or you might miss hearing your phone or doorbell.

Common hearing issues

  • Age-related hearing loss—also known as presbycusis—is one of the most common health conditions in older adults. It comes on gradually, so you may not be aware of how much your hearing has changed over the years. If you have age-related hearing loss, you may find it harder now to understand what others are saying. Dealing with noisy environments—for example, a restaurant with many people talking at once and music playing in the background—may be especially challenging.

  • Tinnitus refers to the perception of a sound that has no outside source. It’s often called “ringing in the ears,” but it can also sound like roaring, clicking, whistling, or buzzing. Some people with age-related hearing loss develop tinnitus. It may also be associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain medicines.

Noticing a problem

Watch for these signs that you may have a hearing problem:

  • Having trouble following along with conversations

  • Asking people to repeat themselves frequently

  • Struggling to filter out voices from background noise

  • Feeling as if those around you are always mumbling

  • Turning up the TV so loud that other people complain

You can buy some hearing aids over the counter (OTC) without seeing a professional first. That might help with a simple, mild hearing issue. But contact your provider if you’ve tried OTC hearing aids without success or have questions about your hearing. Also, tell your provider if you have trouble hearing loud sounds or develop tinnitus symptoms.

Getting a hearing test

The next step is often a professional hearing assessment. If you’ve had gradual hearing loss for many years, Medicare covers yearly visits to an audiologist (a hearing professional who focuses on testing hearing). Medicare also covers diagnostic hearing exams ordered by a provider to find out whether you need medical treatment.

Common hearing tests include:

  • Pure-tone test: Shows how well you hear tones of different pitch and loudness

  • Speech and word recognition tests: Assess how well you hear spoken language

  • Tympanometry: Checks whether your eardrum moves normally

If you think you may have a hearing problem, listen to your ears! Get your hearing tested to pinpoint the issue. Then talk with your provider or audiologist about ways to deal with hearing loss. Hearing aids, assistive devices, and special training are some options that may help.



Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
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