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Health-related New Year’s resolutions are always among the most popular — people resolve to lose weight, exercise more, cut unhealthy foods from their diets or add more healthy food, and take better care of themselves. But not many people resolve to make a hearing checkup with their ENT.

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions in the U.S, with 20 percent of all Americans experiencing some level of impairment and even higher percentages over age 65. But not many people take the time to see a hearing specialist. So what’s an ENT, when do you need to see one, and what happens next?

What’s an ENT?

An ENT physician is an otolaryngologist or a doctor who treats people with disorders and diseases affecting their ears, sinuses, nose, throat, larynx, mouth, neck and face. For the ear, these doctors are trained to treat a variety of problems via surgical and medical treatments. So if you are experiencing a problem with your ears or hearing, your primary care physician will likely recommend that you visit an otolaryngologist, aka an ENT doctor.

When to see an ENT

Hearing loss is a significant public health issue, with about 48 million Americans having some level of hearing difficulty. So if you’re experiencing trouble with your ears, it’s time for a hearing check-up. Some of the reasons to visit an ENT specialist include pain in your ears, balance issues, hearing loss, and tinnitus, or ringing in your ears. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
● Do you have to strain to hear what people are saying?
● Is it hard for you to hear when there’s background noise?
● Do you need to turn up the volume on your TV or radio?
● When people talk to you, does it sound like they’re mumbling?
● Do you regularly ask people to repeat themselves?

If you’re experiencing any ear or hearing problems, schedule an appointment with an ENT physician.

All hearing loss isn’t the same and may be caused by different factors. That’s why it’s important to understand the origin of hearing loss and the different types of hearing impairment. The three types of hearing loss are:

Conductive: In people with conductive hearing loss, sound can’t get through the outer and middle ear. It’s hard to hear soft sounds and loud noises sound muffled. An ear infection, fluid in the middle ear from a cold or allergy, a hole in the eardrum, ear wax, an object stuck in the ear, tumors, and outer or middle ear formation are some of the causes of conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural: This type of hearing loss happens when the inner ear is damaged. People with this kind of hearing impairment have a hard time hearing soft sounds, and louder sounds also may be muffled. Medication, illness, genetics, aging, head trauma, and noise can cause sensorineural hearing loss.

Mixed: Damage to the outer or middle ear and inner ear causes this kind of hearing loss. The same factors that lead to conductive and sensorineural hearing loss cause mixed hearing loss.
Understanding the type and origin of hearing loss will determine the kind of treatment your physician prescribes.

What’s next?

So you’ve been to your ENT specialist and the doctor has diagnosed your type of hearing loss. If you have conductive hearing loss, your physician will recommend medicine or surgery — or both. For mixed hearing loss, medication or surgery may help with part of the problem, but it likely won’t cure your hearing problem. And with sensorineural hearing loss, medicine or surgery is unlikely to help. However, hearing aids probably will help you hear better and more clearly. Your ENT physician also may refer you to an audiologist, who will determine the degree of your hearing loss and the best type of hearing aid for you.

Millions of Americans experience hearing loss. But not enough of them are scheduling time with their ENT doctor. With a check of symptoms and diagnosis from a specialist, people with hearing loss will be back on the path to hearing more clearly.

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