Whether you think you have problems with your hearing or not, chances are you can still benefit in some way from a hearing test. However, for a number of reasons, booking and attending your hearing test might create all sorts of questions in your mind.
Some may worry about what it says about you, whether it’s a sign you’re ageing, or some may be embarrassed by the prospect of wearing a hearing aid.
Whatever the reason, we understand that booking a hearing test can be difficult for anyone.
It’s important to remember, though, that hearing problems come in all shapes and forms, so it’s worth getting it checked out, even if it’s just so you can continue to enjoy your life as you usually would.
To understand this apprehension, and hopefully calm any concerns you or your family member may have about getting tested, we interviewed our Head of Audiology, Gordon Harrison, to find out his experiences.
Why do you think people can be embarrassed to book a hearing test?
There was a social stigma surrounding having a hearing test and wearing hearing aids, because some people were concerned that it was a sign of ageing — associating them with old age. A ‘support’ element was there too: people were uncomfortable with the idea that they might need support to hear properly, and that their hearing wasn’t good enough on its own.
Although hearing tests haven’t reached the level of normality that glasses have, this stigma luckily has started to fade little by little, as people begin to realise how easy and quick a hearing test is.
How do you alleviate embarrassment in the hearing test?
As healthcare professionals, our responsibility is to try and support people’s health and well-being in the best possible way. The main way we do this is by trying to understand why they’ve come in to see us by getting to know them and their lifestyles a little better.
We therefore get to know what day to day challenges they face, why they’ve come in, and how we can help them get the best possible outcome out of the test. From asking these kinds of questions, we can usually draw conclusions on what their challenges are and how we can help them in a way that seems reassuring and approachable.
For example, if someone needs the television volume a lot louder than the rest of the family, or they can’t hear people in a conversation, or they’re starting to withdraw from social situations, these are usually signs that a hearing test is necessary.
The muffled hearing can sometimes be a simple case of wax blocking their ear passage. And if it isn’t, we can explain the need for performing a hearing test in a way that fits their lifestyles, so they can visualise how a hearing aid or assisting device can help them overcome their present challenges, and improve their overall happiness and well-being.
How common is it to need a hearing aid in the UK?
The latest study by the British Irish Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (BIHIMA) was in 2018, and stated that under 10% of the population as a whole needed a hearing aid.
The results for over-18s showed that 12-13% of people have recorded some form of hearing loss. As the population starts to get older, from the ages of 55-64 these figures start to increase. Then at the range of 65-74 years of age, the number rises again to 20%. At 74 and above, 40% of people will have some form of hearing loss. So it does tend to increase significantly as we get older.
This is why we always encourage early intervention, as many start to notice a difference in their hearing from 55 and onwards. You can then understand where your hearing is at that point, and improve your hearing accordingly.
How important is it to get your hearing tested as soon as you notice symptoms of hearing loss?
The earlier you intervene, the better your chances are of managing and improving your hearing successfully.
Plus, many have a misconception of hearing aid options available. The devices we fit now can connect and be controlled and powered by your phone, for example. Plus, you can stream music and phone calls through them in both ears, rather than just in one — which helps many decipher what they’re hearing.
Some devices even link to appliances in your home, so you can link it to the TV or to your home phone.
The variation in devices we now offer can support people in many different situations – and can be tailored depending on their lifestyle. This will only develop in the future, and having that level of connectivity to a range of devices will support our customers further.
What we’d like people to know is there’s nothing scary about a hearing test. We get our teeth and eyes checked regularly, for example, and these are seen as normal routines to help us improve our lives.
We’d like people to see that hearing is just as important, if not more so, because you never switch your hearing off even when you’re asleep. Your hearing is necessary to monitor the environment around you, and should be checked regularly too.
Is there an easy way to tell if you need a hearing test?
There are a number of apps you can try. Another easy way is with your television. Watch TV with someone younger, who doesn’t have any apparent hearing loss. If you ask them to set it at a level that’s comfortable for them to hear on the TV, and you think it would be more comfortable at a much higher volume, this might be an indicator that hearing loss is apparent.
What advice would you give to younger people regarding their ear health?
When we’re young, some of us feel like we’re immortal, and that we don’t need to worry about ailments that affect us when we’re older.
However, a real concern for us in the audiology community is the dependency we as a population seem to have on headphones and earbuds; and the volume and length of time that we use them.
We not only listen to music with them, we also use them for phone calls, podcasts, and more. The high volume and sound pressure in the ear – especially if it’s above an 80 dB level – shortens the safe time you can wear them before you cause long term hearing damage.
What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about hearing tests and hearing loss?
Well, there are two. The first is that they’re not scary at all: we’re nice people and we care about you.
The second is, if you do need something, we assure you that the improvement to your quality of life will be significant if you access the service. The gain you get from a test far outweighs feeling ‘old’ because you’re wearing a hearing aid.
For more information relating to hearing tests, visit our dedicated learning resource. You can also book an appointment with your local store here.