Test the Ears You Love

My three kids range in age from 3 to 10. Two of them go to school full time, and one is currently being taught at home by his Lipreading Mom. Although each one has amazing abilities that I notice even though I’m maternally biased, I sometimes wonder about their ears. They come from a long line of hearing loss starting with their great-great grandpa and ending with their mom.

Or does the loss end with me?

Over the past month, I’ve taken each of my children to their school district’s audiology department. The older two did the standard hearing test in a sound booth: listening to beeps and repeating words dictated to them via headphones. My youngest’s test was more exciting. He watched a small stuffed elephant play drums inside its cage each time the audiologist sounded a beep. My little guy was more interested in waiting for the expected drumming animal than listening for the audiological sounds. All three of my children passed their tests with hearing results in the normal to above normal range.

One day afterward as I sat in my 6-year-old daughter’s bedroom, she asked me to listen for something.

“Do you hear it?” Her ocean blue eyes squinted at me.

I strained to hear whatever “it” was even with my comprised hearing ability. No luck.

“Sorry,” I said, brushing her hair for bedtime. “What do you hear?”

This time, she closed her eyes. “It sounds like ringing.”

I held the brush in mid-air and tried with all the listening power I had to hear what she described.

That’s when I heard “it”: the ringing sound that had been my constant companion since an audiologist diagnosed me with progressive hearing loss 10 years ago this spring. I visited the doctor because of the noise that filled my ears 24/7, which I later learned is a medical condition called tinnitus. Sufferers of the aggravating condition might also hear whistling, beeping, screeching or tweeting sounds that no one else can hear. It’s often a precursor to hearing loss.

“Sweetheart,” I said to my little girl. “Is the sound coming from inside your ears?”

She nodded. “That’s why I can’t hear my teacher when the room is all noisy.”

My daughter, whose hearing tested normally in a quiet audiologist’s sound booth, can’t always hear well in class because of her ear noise.

I went back to that audiologist a couple of days ago and shared my girl’s story. Not only would this very kind professional note this on my daughter’s file, but she was also going to let the school know. I plan to share tinnitus coping strategies during an upcoming parent-teacher conference at my girl’s school.

Be watching my blog for how the school meeting goes, and for suggestions on living with tinnitus’ ear noise. In the meantime, whether your loved ones have hearing loss or not, Lipreading Mom urges you to pay a visit to the audiologist for a yearly hearing test. Tinnitus is only detected and manageable if you stay on top of it. 

If you have kids, do them a favor and get their ears tested pronto!

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6 thoughts on “Test the Ears You Love

  1. Yeah, when I was in sophomore year in college, my residual hearing took a nosedive right around when I started having ringing in my ears. The ringing and the pitch it was at definitely interfered with hearing in the classroom. A couple of years later I got my cochlear implant and one of the side effects of the CI was that after a few month the ringing faded into the background but can still come up when I think about it.

  2. (corrected)

    Shanna,

    I just saw this earlier post which partially answered my question about your six year old daughter, but it’s leaving me troubled nonetheless:

    Does your six year old daughter who has tinnitus also have hearing impairment? Does she wear hearing aids &/or use FM in school?

    That being said, I’m troubled by this statement, because your daughter is trying to tell you something, but I believe she — and both you and her audiologists — may be conflating two separate auditory problems:

    She nodded. “That’s why I can’t hear my teacher when the room is all noisy.”

    My daughter, whose hearing tested normally in a quiet audiologist’s sound booth, can’t always hear well in class because of her ear noise.

    What your daughter is trying to tell you is that she has bothersome central tinnitus, and also that she is having difficulty understanding speech in noise… And everyone is conflating the two separate conditions:

    1) She is reporting speech discrimination problems in noise: This complaint must be, at minimum, remedied with her using FM in the classroom;

    2) It is preferable to also diagnose the speech discrimination problem to see if there is either a peripheral problem such as Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD) &/or a central problem, such as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD);

    3) The tinnitus itself is a bright signal that there is indeed has been a decline in hearing, even though her thresholds are within normal limits, as the overexcited neurons in her auditory cortex are firing at random due to a lack of auditory stimulation. Usually (over 90% of the time) but not always, tinnitus is due to a hearing loss. The fact her hearing thresholds are within normal limits does not rule out that they may have declined, which would account for the reduced stimulation in the auditory cortex: The otoacoustic emission (OAE) test is a quick, sensitive and reliable test to assess outer hair cell function, and that may be prescribed as part of the test battery.

    In any case, just because your daughter is only six doesn’t mean her two complaints of poor speech discrim and tinnitus aren’t valid: She is obviously experiencing something; and it’s up to the experts to decode what she is trying to say.

    Dan Schwartz,
    Editor, The Hearing Blog
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  3. Pingback: Frustration with so-called "minimal" hearing loss | The Hearing Blog

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