Sometimes, kids have trouble hearing. One of the best people to see for a hearing problem is an audiologist (say: ah-dee-AHL-uh-jist). An audiologist is a specialist who's trained to understand how hearing works and how to help kids who don't hear normally.
Hearing problems can be a little like solving a mystery. Why? Because the ear has several different parts and it connects to your brain. To make hearing happen, your ears need your brain and your brain needs your ears.
An audiologist can help figure out what the problem is with a kid's hearing and work with the doctor on solving the problem. Kids with hearing problems may visit an audiologist regularly to see how the treatments are working and to make sure their hearing hasn't changed.
What Will It Feel Like?
Visiting the audiologist doesn't hurt. The audiologist will use the otoscope to check your ears. You've probably already had an otoscope (say: OH-tuh-scope) exam during your regular checkup at the doctor's office. An otoscope is a tool that can be used to look inside your ear. It's dark in there, so the otoscope has a light.
After seeing the way your ear looks, the audiologist will want to test how it's working.
What Tests Are Done?
The first test is called tympanometry (say: tim-pah-NAW-met-ree). This tests how your eardrum moves. Did you know your eardrum moves? A normal eardrum vibrates (moves back and forth) when sound comes into your ear. To do this eardrum test, your audiologist will place a soft plug into your ear for a few seconds. This plug will detect eardrum movement and the movement will be shown as a bunch of lines on the equipment screen or on a piece of paper that prints out. Ask the audiologist to show you how yours looked.
Next you will go into a little room called a booth. The booth blocks out the sound so you’ll have quiet for your hearing test. In the booth, you will listen to sounds or words the audiologist plays for you. You will raise your hand or push a button to let the audiologist know you heard them. You might need to repeat the words you hear.
Another test measures how well your inner ear is working. To test the inner ear you wear a special headband while you listen for the sounds. The headband needs to be tight to vibrate the bones in your middle ear and send the sound to your inner ear. Usually, one end of the headband will be behind your ear and the other end will be in front of your opposite ear.
When your earphones are on your head correctly, the audiologist will go to a nearby room to do the test. There will be a window between the two rooms, but the glass might look a little dark. That's on purpose. Why? So you don’t get any clues about when the sound is coming. That would be cheating.
The test will take about 30 minutes, depending on how many different sounds and tests the audiologist wants to do.
What's My Grade?
Good news! Hearing tests are not graded like the ones at school. Your audiologist might show you how you did on an audiogram — a chart that shows how well you hear.
Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids
A kid's hearing tests might show decreased hearing in one ear or both. The good news is that there are many treatments for kids who have hearing loss.
Sometimes kids have problems hearing from too much ear wax or from fluid that can get in the ears from a cold or ear infection. These problems happen to lots of kids and often get better easily. Removing ear wax is really easy. Usually, fluid in the ear goes away on its own.
Some hearing problems might need the help of hearing aids. These are tiny microphones and make sounds louder so that someone with hearing loss can hear them. Sometimes, surgery can help. If surgery only improves some hearing, wearing a hearing aid can help the person hear even better.
Kids who have hearing problems also can get other help. They might go to special schools, where all the kids have hearing problems. Or they might go to a regular school and get a little extra help when needed. Outside or inside school, the kid might get speech therapy to help with talking and understanding others.
If you're a kid with hearing problems, a team of people will help you hear as well as you can. Who's on this team? You, your family, your friends, your teachers, your doctors, your therapists, and especially your audiologist!