You may think that audiologists and hearing specialists are the only people who can perform hearing tests, but you would be wrong. General practitioners can and should ask simple questions about auditory issues and perform simple hearing tests during routine checkups.

Especially in the elderly population, hearing loss often goes undetected or unreported. Hearing loss goes unnoticed by the patient because they do not realize that they are missing bits and pieces of conversations and other auditory input.

Studies have indicated that a large number of unreported cases of hearing loss could be found and treated effectively with a simple screening protocol during office visits. Early cases of hearing loss could also be caught and prevented before the patient suffers further hearing damage.

Tests for Hearing Loss During Routine Office Visits

There are one of two ways that your doctor can check for hearing impairment during a regular office checkup. One is with a questionnaire designed to determine if you could possibly be having troubles hearing. The other is with the whispered voice test, which is a simple test that requires no special equipment. In fact, it only requires that the doctor use his voice.

In most cases, both a questionnaire and a whispered voice test will be performed so that your doctor can get a complete picture of how your hearing is affecting your daily life. The questionnaire will include questions about your daily listening activities and conversational abilities.

Sample questions:

  • Do you have trouble hearing people over the telephone?
  • Do you feel that others do not speak clearly to you?
  • Does your family frequently complain about the volume level of your listening activities such as the TV?
  • Do you often need to strain to hear conversations?
  • Do you have trouble hearing in noisy situations?
  • Do you say “what?” a lot?

The Whispered Voice Test

The whispered voice test is a simple test that uses your doctor’s voice to gauge your hearing ability.

Here is how the whisper test is performed:

1. The doctor stands behind the patient. This eliminates the possibility of lip reading.

2. He will gently cover the canal of the ear opposite the one being tested.

3. The doctor will ask the patient to repeat a set of 3 random numbers at different loudness levels. The loudest number sequence will be at a conversational level and the softest number sequence will be in a whispered voice.

You will pass the whisper test if you can repeat all three numbers correctly at each level of loudness or repeat three sets of numbers correctly more than 50% of the time at each loudness level. If you cannot repeat back the numbers at any one level, you will be considered as having a hearing impairment.

If you or your loved one goes to a doctor who does not routinely perform hearing screenings, bring up your concerns directly. Let them know that you have suspicions of a hearing loss and would like their input. They may perform the screening or they may refer you directly to a specialist.