Am I losing my hearing?
February 13, 2010 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Am I losing my hearing?

I think that I'm starting to show signs of hearing loss.

I was having lunch with my wife in a crowded and noisy restaurant and I was having a lot of difficulty understanding her. She asked me if I had noticed that my hearing isn't as good as it used to be. I've also noticed that my ears ring with a pulsation that matches my pulse when I'm in a quiet place.

I have worked full time in a loud industrial area for the past 1.5 years (~90 dB). I am required to wear earplugs and I do so without fail. From 15 years ago until 10 years ago, I worked in an extremely loud environment (~105 dB) with hearing protection for 50 to 60 hours per week. I don't have any noisy hobbies, don't go to concerts and don't crank the volume on my car stereo (except for the very rare times when "Leper Messiah" is on the radio :)

Over the past year or so, I have had increasing difficulty understanding my co-workers. I can't seem to separate the background noise from human speech. I have an especially hard time if I can't see their lips when they talk. I have a soft voice and many people at work have asked me if I have hearing problems. I have also made mistakes because I didn't hear machines operating abnormally.

My hearing was tested in the rinky-dink testing booth at work. The nurse who tested me said that my hearing was "OK". Since I'm not completely convinced by a simple "OK" and am distrustful of the company's commitment to my health against their commitment to not get in trouble with OSHA, I was wondering what the hive mind thinks.

Here is the printout from the test:


.5 15
1k 5
2k 10
3k 10
4k 15
6k 5
8k 10
Avg: 12


.5 10
1k 5
2k 5
3k 10
4k 10
6k 5
8k 10
Avg: 8

I'm guessing that xk numbers are audio frequencies, but otherwise I don't know how to read this.

I know the stock answer is "go see a doctor" and I will, but what kind? Should I see an ear nose and throat doctor for this? Is there another specialty for hearing? Can anyone read this chart? If you can, I explicitly understand that you are not my doctor or other health-care professional. Thank you.
posted by double block and bleed to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you distrust your company's intentions so much, why would you trust the printout of the results?

An audiologist is the type of professional you want to find. Many insurance plans provide for a free hearing test each year.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:11 PM on February 13, 2010

This might help you interpret the results.
posted by misha at 3:12 PM on February 13, 2010

This page from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says "If the "X's" and "O's" all fall in the -10 dB to 15 dB range, your hearing lies in the normal range." which I think is what we're looking at with your results. That said, you're concerned that you may be getting worse in the hearing department in which case it wouldbe a good idea to get your hearing tested by an audiologist who is trained to do that sort of thing.

It sounds like you probably have tinnitus (the ears ringing). This is an annoying malady (I have it) because it's tough to tell sometimes whether it's progressive or just sort of there. Tinnitus can also interfere with your hearing ability and be indicative or not indicative of hearing loss or an audiological problem. One of the worst side effects that tinnitus sufferers deal with is the "Oh shit am I going deaf!?" anxiety that comes along with it. So, to mitigate those symptoms while you're managing this, do the normal stress relieving things, limit caffeine, get plenty of rest and take care of yourself.

Some medications are thought to be problematic or toxic to the inner ear mechanism. You may want to check out this page on ototoxic drugs [and check the primary sournes obviously] to see if any of them are in your regimen.

Basically you want to go to an audiologist with your concerns. Your regular doctor can give you a referral and would probably be the first step on getting this taken care of. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 3:14 PM on February 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding the audiologist, but you might want to see an ENT (otolaryngologist) first who may have some useful perspective on the type of hearing loss you have and your options. The good news (as such) is that given your work environment and that the tinnitus (ringing) is in both ears, this is probably pretty run-of-the-mill noise-induced hearing loss. (But of course, IANAD, and that's just speculation based on the information provided.)
posted by j-dawg at 3:15 PM on February 13, 2010

Oh, and to add on to what someone else said about "normal" ranges, there's a lot more to a proper audiological workup than tone detection. An audiologist will put you through various comprehension tasks that may identify issues closer to the ones you've been experiencing when talking with other people.
posted by j-dawg at 3:18 PM on February 13, 2010

The ringing that matches your pulse is called pulsatile tinnitus. I found it incredibly annoying. Much more so than regular tinnitus which is what I have now, after I lost nearly all my hearing in that ear. My loss was sudden, so I doubt that is what you are experiencing. You should probably see both and audiologist and an ENT. Usually they are at the same office and you'll have the hearing test with the audiologist and then see the ENT afterward.
posted by sulaine at 3:38 PM on February 13, 2010

Sounds not just like tinnitus, but pulsating tinnitus - which can be caused by lots of things, some of which are taken care of really easily - so you should have it checked out. Even if it's just someone looking in your ears at the local clinic.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:43 PM on February 13, 2010

For what it's worth: I have a similar problem as OP, i.e. I can't distinguish background noise from conversation in a crowded place. Hearing test at medical institution showed I have "perfect hearing" (high sensitivity at all frequency ranges). My GP says that I don't "pay attention" enough, citing the fact that busy people have a busy inner life in their brain that may shift attention away from sorting out perception. I don't personally buy that explanation, but it may work for OP. My own analysis is that the raw sensitivity to frequency ranges is not enough to properly measure hearing ability, and that there is some additional "filtering" ability involved to sort out simultaneous sound sources. I suspect mine and OP's have gone deficient; mine has gradually degraded as I attended loud music concerts.
posted by knz at 5:14 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My dad had terrible hearing for a while and was constantly repeating himself because he couldn't hear me (I have a high and soft voice). He started taking these Lipo-Flavonoid things and it's made a marked difference in his hearing. I think you can buy them over-the-counter. But I'd go see a doctor to see what's going on with your hearing.
posted by pised at 5:39 PM on February 13, 2010

Thanks, everyone.

I'll make an appointment to see an audiologist.

More about my tinnitus: mine is a very high pitched pulsating ringing or whining sound that doesn't bother me unless I think about it. Then it drives me nuts. The sound is exactly like that made by the CRT in an "old-fashioned" TV, which must be a very high pitched sound because some people can hear it and others, like my wife, can't.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:43 AM on February 14, 2010

Double block and bleed- I have the exact same issue. I can hear CRT televisions and rarely other people can. Also have the high pitch tinnitus.

However, my impression is that these high pitches aren't terribly useful in the day to day conversation and background noise filtering mechanism. More likely, the deficiency in the 1k to 2k range is the problem.
posted by gjc at 8:31 AM on February 14, 2010

Dang, just reading about your tinnitus description makes me aware of mine.

Since you're in the normal range, you wouldn't even qualify in the "loss" category. But FYI, the normal speech ranges are those in the middle. Deep, vowel sounds are on the left (aay, eeh, eye, ooh, you), and higher pitch, consonant sounds on the right (-sound out- ck, shh, phh).

Besides the tinnitus, you may also have some earway blockages or other consitions like wax buildup from wearing the earplugs. I'm sure the doc will give you a heads up.

Hope your visit goes well, I'd love to have hearing as good as yours! Be thankful you were required and listened to the regulation to wear hearing protection. Too many people did not and do not and I saw many of them when I was a practicing hearing instrument specialist.
posted by emjay at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2010

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