Where do I go for this annoying hearing problem?
August 6, 2008 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Not-My-Doctors on MeFi: Where do I go with this hearing issue?

I've experienced slight hearing loss for about the past five years. It has bothered me in the past, but only recently have I noticed how much my hearing has been affected. Having just aquired a decent health insurance plan, I'd like to use my benefits to get this checked out. But where do I go? I've never had a "family doctor" and have only occasionally seen doctors at in-and-out clinics.
If it helps- within the past two months I've had several shooting pains around the aforementioned ear. These have only been recent- in the entire time that the hearing has been an issue, there hasn't been pain. Also: my mother has the same hearing problem (i.e., loss of hearing for seemingly no reason) and a doctor told her there was nothing to be done. I am a female, 23 years old.

So: do I go to a regular doctor to get a referral to a specialist, or can I bypass that and get help quicker?

Any advice appreciated, I don't do this often. Thank you!
posted by gracious floor to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Whether or not you need a referral depends on your insurance plan. Most plans require this, I believe, but not all (mine doesn't). You can probably check your benefits online, or else talk to someone in HR if this is a plan through your job.
I think the type of doctor you're looking for is an audiologist. They will do a hearing test and should be able to investigate the ear pains.
posted by Jemstar at 9:19 AM on August 6, 2008

I think you need to find a good general practitioner that you will use as your regular doctor, and get a referral from there. It will help you establish yourself as a patient there, which will make things much easier in the future, and he or she can check for some of the standard things that could cause the hearing loss.

My dad has had some serious hearing loss for years due to working around loud stuff, but it got significantly worse recently. He went to his GP and it turns out he had lost all hearing in one ear - because it was clogged with wax. They cleaned it out and he's back to where his hearing used to be (not great, but better). She also referred him to a specialist, but at least things are better and he can go to the specialist knowing it's not something his GP can fix. And the specialist won't get annoyed when he comes in for what appears to be a wax buildup problem.

Obviously your hearing loss isn't from a sudden wax buildup, but the recent addition of pain could indicate something new has happened that your GP might be able to help with.
posted by thejanna at 9:22 AM on August 6, 2008

So: do I go to a regular doctor to get a referral to a specialist, or can I bypass that and get help quicker?

It depends on your insurance. Some plans require a referral, some don't. Mine doesn't (BCBS) but a lot of specialists would prefer you have someone managing your primary care. You should become established with a primary care physician regardless. Now that you have a plan, why not? You didn't ask, but I notice your gender and age and the fact that you have only seen doctors in walk-in clinics. Now that you have a decent health plan you should establish yourself with a GYN and/or a GP that will also handle your paps and such if you haven't already. It would be foolish not to.

Make an appointment with a GP. She'll give you a referral to an ENT or audiologist or whatever is necessary.

Good luck.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:27 AM on August 6, 2008

I usually just gone straight to an ENT doctor when ear problem arise, though as has been mentioned, a referral from a GP may be necessary depending on your insurance. In the past when this has happened to me, I've gone to a doc-in-the-box, explain my situation of reasons x,y, and z that I only want an ENT to touch my ear and get a referral that way- I don't allow a non-specialized doctor to touch my ear because cleaning my ear with a syringe == busted ear drum or something along those lines.

Your best bet is probably calling HR or your insurance company to find out if you can go straight to an ENT/audiologist or if you need the referral, and if so, who can you go to initially. Just an FYI- getting my ear properly cleaned and checked out is around $200-250 without insurance for me, not including any additional test.
posted by jmd82 at 9:44 AM on August 6, 2008

Yep, see a GP if necessary and get an ENT referral. I've had a similar problem for most of my life. It's basically a chronic case of fluid behind my ears which causes hearing loss and occasional sharp pains. I don't see GPs about this because they always think it's an ear infection and pump me full of antibiotics. But an ENT can do a whole battery of diagnostic tests to figure out what the problem is.

If you have a fluid buildup, they will likely try to put a tube in your ear to gradually drain it. I had one of these when I was a kid, but need another one.
posted by lunasol at 9:54 AM on August 6, 2008

"behid my ears" should read "behind my eardrum."
posted by lunasol at 9:55 AM on August 6, 2008

I can't speak to your insurance questions, being from Canada, but when I was having my hearing loss checked out, it went like this:
  1. GP for a general check-up, ruling out simple stuff like wax, and referral to an...
  2. Otologist for an exam an audiogram and auditory brainstem response test; he also wanted an...
  3. MRI at a different hospital to rule out any other unlikely but possible brain problems, followed by a...
  4. Big delay during which I fretted a great deal about how to pay for hearing aids from the...
  5. Audiologist (which at least in my jurisdiction is emphatically not a doctor, but rather a practitioner with Masters- or PhD-level education plus certification) at a for-profit hearing aid dispensary clinic for another audiogram and to eventually buy and be fitted for my hearing aids.
So, there can be a lot of steps depending on what kind of treatment you require. Good luck!
posted by onshi at 9:55 AM on August 6, 2008

For ear pain or sudden changes in hearing, I would see my GP or an ENT.

For a detailed evaluation of hearing status with possible recommendations for hearing rehabilitation, including hearing aids, I would see an audiologist.

Some ENTs have an audiologist associated with the practice, or may refer you to one.
posted by mimo at 11:03 AM on August 6, 2008

ENT, who then can refer you to an audiologist if necessary. Realize that insurance probably won't cover hearing aids. OTOH, they improve your quality of life immensely and IMO are worth the cost depending on how much hearing you've lost.
posted by desjardins at 11:10 AM on August 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to all- now I have some direction.

Not sure that I am going to go with a hearing aid or device- my other ear is perfectly fine, it just becomes obnoxious when in a movie theater next to someone, driving with a passenger, etc. Just need to see someone to stop it where it is, at least!

Much appreciation to all my fellow MeFites!
posted by gracious floor at 11:31 AM on August 6, 2008

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