5 questions about hearing loss you should always bring up

Even if you're not 100% sure you have a hearing problem, it's key to tell your primary care provider or hearing care professional. Here are 5 things to ask about.

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At your office visits, your primary care provider (PCP) may check your blood pressure and heart rate. They might also ask questions about your mood and exercise habits. But they don’t always talk about how well you’re hearing.

And it’s an important subject to bring up if you’re in your 50s or 60s. That’s when many people begin to notice age-related hearing loss.1 If your hearing isn’t as sharp as it used to be, talking to your PCP is a great place to start. They can check for any physical problem that may cause hearing issues, such as an infection, and give you a basic hearing screening.2

If they suspect you need hearing aids, they may refer you to a hearing care professional (such as an audiologist) for a complete hearing exam and consultation. These experts diagnose hearing problems and recommend treatments, including hearing aids.3 If you belong to AARP®, you can request a no-cost hearing exam and consultation through AARP® Hearing Solutions™ provided by UnitedHealthcare Hearing.

Whether you see your PCP or a hearing care professional, it’s important to ask questions. And it’s always a good idea to bring notes. Here are 5 common issues.

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Question #1: My hearing is muffled. Could earwax be the problem?

A buildup of earwax can block sound and affect your hearing.4 This is one thing your PCP should check out. They’ll use a tool with a light (called an otoscope) to look inside your ears.

“If your doctor sees wax, they’ll probably remove it,” says Shea DeNoia, Au.D., an audiologist and owner of Ambrose Hearing Center in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. They can do that by flushing out your ear, using a special tool to remove the wax or suction it out.4

But if you still have muffled hearing, you may have hearing loss, notes DeNoia. You can talk to your PCP about going to a hearing care professional — and ask for recommendations.

Even if the full hearing exam doesn’t show that you have hearing loss, it’s still worth doing. It may provide a baseline that a hearing care professional can refer to in the future, explains DeNoia.

Question #2: Why do my ears feel blocked?

This is a common concern, especially during cold season. Having stuffed-up ears might even affect your hearing.5 For this symptom, your best bet is to start with an appointment with your PCP, says DeNoia.

“Your primary care provider will be able to see if there’s an underlying ear infection or fluid,” she says. Or it could be allergies. Your PCP will be able to tell by looking into your ear.

If your ears are stopped up because of an ear infection or a cold, your PCP may suggest treatment. They may recommend nasal decongestants or topical nasal steroids.5 Most of the time though, your ears will feel less plugged up as your cold goes away.

In the meantime, try swallowing, yawning or chewing gum. Or try blowing your nose gently while pinching your nostrils and closing your mouth. These tricks can help open up your ears.5

If your hearing still feels muffled, it’s time to consider a complete hearing exam and consultation.

AARP members have access to a wide network of hearing care professionals. Find a provider.

Question #3: Why have I been feeling dizzy lately?

The term “feeling dizzy” can describe different things. Common types of dizziness include:6

  • The room feels like it’s spinning (known as vertigo).
  • You’re unsteady so it’s tough to walk.
  • You feel lightheaded.

Believe it or not, your ears hold the key to your sense of balance and feeling steady. Inside your ears are fluid plus hairlike sensors in the inner ear that help you feel balanced.7 But if something like an ear infection or a cold affects those sensors, you may feel dizzy or unsteady.

“If you have a sinus infection or head congestion, that can cause dizziness and muffled hearing,” says DeNoia. It’s a good idea to tell your PCP about any dizziness you have. You may want to see a hearing care professional too. They can test you for other possible causes of dizziness that involve damage to the ear.8

That includes Ménière’s disease. This inner ear disorder can cause ringing in the ear, hearing loss, dizziness and congestion in the ear.9 It is typically treated by an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT), who can prescribe medication.

Question #4: When people talk, they seem to mumble. Do I have a hearing problem?

If you have to say “what?” more than you’d like, bring it up with your PCP or a hearing care professional. The same is true if your family is suddenly telling you the TV is too loud. These could all be signs of hearing loss.10

Some other symptoms of hearing loss you might notice:10,11

  • It seems like everyone is mumbling.
  • You have trouble hearing on the phone.
  • It’s difficult to understand people in crowded, noisy spots like restaurants or outdoor sports events.
  • You need people to look at you when they speak so you can see their lips moving.

Your PCP can refer you to a hearing care professional, such as an audiologist.

Question #5: Could I benefit from hearing aids?

This is a good question to ask a hearing care professional as you go over the results of your hearing exam. They’ll discuss ways you can protect your hearing, and they might suggest that you get hearing aids. Hearing aids can help people hear everyday sounds and conversations better, even in noisy environments.12

Your hearing care professional can recommend the hearing aid that’s best for you. They’ll also show you different styles and models, including devices you wear inside the ear or behind them. With AARP Hearing Solutions, you can choose from a variety of affordably priced prescription hearing aids, including the Relate® brand.

You may have to get hearing aids for both ears. “If you have hearing loss in both ears, then you should be wearing two hearing aids,” says DeNoia. “Our brain is used to using pathways from both ears, so we want to resolve hearing loss in both ears.”

Keep in mind that you have lots of options when it comes to hearing aids. So don’t be afraid to talk to your PCP or a hearing care professional if you feel your ears aren’t as sharp these days.

Sources

  1. Hearing test Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed August 30, 2022.
  2. Who can I turn to for help with my hearing loss? National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Last updated July 5, 2022.
  3. Audiologists vs. hearing instrument specialist vs. ENTs American Academy of Audiology. Accessed March 21, 2024.
  4. Audiology information series: ear wax American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Published 2021.
  5. Plugged ears: What is the remedy? Mayo Clinic. Published January 26, 2022.
  6. Dizziness American Academy of Audiology. Accessed March 21, 2024.
  7. Inner ear and balance Mayo Clinic. Accessed March 21, 2024.
  8. Dizziness and balance American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Accessed March 21, 2024.
  9. Ménière’s disease Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed June 27, 2022.
  10. Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Last updated March 17, 2023.
  11. Hearing loss Mayo Clinic. Published March 30, 2023.
  12. Hearing aids National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Last updated October 11, 2022.

Information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a licensed medical provider. Consult your provider prior to making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.

AARP Hearing Solutions is available to all AARP members and does not require a health insurance plan from UnitedHealthcare. The AARP hearing program discount cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions, coupons or hearing aid benefit plans unless noted herein. Products or services that are reimbursable by federal programs including Medicare and Medicaid are not available on a discounted or complimentary basis. AARP commercial member benefits are provided by third parties, not by AARP or its affiliates. Providers pay a royalty fee to AARP for the use of its intellectual property. These fees are used for the general purposes of AARP. Some provider offers are subject to change and may have restrictions. Please contact the provider directly for details. UnitedHealthcare Hearing is provided through UnitedHealthcare, offered to existing members of certain products underwritten or provided by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or its affiliates to provide specific hearing aid discounts. This is not an insurance nor managed care product, and fees or charges for services in excess of those defined in program materials are the member's responsibility. UnitedHealthcare does not endorse nor guarantee hearing aid products/services available through the hearing program. This program may not be available in all states or for all group sizes. Components subject to change.

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