Five Reasons a Hearing Test is Like a Blood Test
Lower prices will not end the epidemic of untreated hearing loss. A better hearing test can help.
Only 20% of Americans who need hearing aids get them. High prices prompted recent legislation on over-the-counter hearing aids. But price is not the only issue. In the U.K., where hearing aids are free, only 9% of hard-of-hearing adults aged 40 to 69 use them. Clearly price is only one barrier. Another one is the way hearing is tested.
Imagine you have blurry vision. An optometrist asks you to identify letters from across the room. Cover your right eye and read the lowest line possible. Cover your left eye and repeat. Then the doctor uses a rapid sequence of lens comparisons to measure your vision. Which is better: A or B? During the vision test, you experienced the benefit of eyeglasses. The test confirmed your blurry vision and proved that corrective lenses help. You probably purchased them without even asking for an explanation.
Conversely, imagine that during a physical exam, your doctor orders a routine blood test. You hate needles, but reluctantly agree. The test results include medical jargon and values compared against normal ranges. A few values appear high or low. The Internet is of little help so you call the doctor for an explanation. That blood test did not convince you there is a problem or a benefit of treatment.
Now imagine you have difficulty hearing your friend in a restaurant. You go to an audiologist who seats you in a quiet room wearing headphones, and tells you to press a button whenever you hear a beep. After a sequence of beeps and presses, you repeat words as instructed, first in quiet then with background noise.
You are convinced you heard all the beeps, even the really quiet ones. However, the results reveal a hearing loss. You are surprised because the hearing test did not demonstrate a problem to you or the benefits of treatment. Like 36% of people with hearing loss, you leave without getting hearing aids since their value is unclear.
Here are five reasons why that hearing test is like the blood test:
- You may not have any symptoms. Just like a blood test, a hearing test may establish a baseline or help diagnose other disorders. Subtle hearing loss can go unnoticed without testing.
- You may not want to be tested. Just as a dislike of needles makes a blood test unappealing, denial and past experiences can make you wary of having a hearing test.
- You do not experience the benefit of treatment during the test. Unlike with a vision test, blood tests and hearing tests are mysterious and the advantages of treatment are unclear.
- The test results require explanation and counseling. People without training are unlikely to understand blood and hearing test results, or their implications, without explanation.
- You may want a second opinion. If the explanation is uncertain or you disagree or forget what the doctor said, you may request a different doctor.
The good news: a hearing test can feel more like a vision test. Some audiologists will fit you with advanced, trial hearing instruments as a part of the test. They briefly extend the test into your real world so you can experience the benefits of hearing aids when you need them most. With some devices, you can even use an app to send real-time impressions of how they are working. Trial hearing instruments let you experience the difference hearing aids make, like the vision test with A/B comparisons, and they let you and your audiologist discover the best solution for you.
Untreated hearing loss is an epidemic in America. Based on global evidence, lowering the price of hearing aids may not end it. Another issue is the hearing test itself. Like a blood test, it leaves you doubting the results and the value of treatment. Making the hearing test more like a vision test can help you understand the results easier and quickly realize the value of hearing aids.