If you work in a noisy environment, your employer has an obligation to work with you to preserve your sense of hearing. One of the most important components of your employer’s responsibility is to provide a regular, no-cost hearing test to establish a baseline and monitor for any hearing changes throughout your career. Even though you can’t “study” for a hearing test to get the best results, there are some things you can do to prepare and ensure an accurate test.
1. Beware of earwax
Earwax, also called cerumen, is a natural part of any healthy ear canal. Under normal circumstances, earwax accumulates slowly, acts as a natural barrier for dirt and debris that would otherwise harm the ear, and works its way out on its own. However, when cerumen buildup is excessive or the wax becomes hardened, it can act as an earplug that temporarily affects your hearing ability.
If you suspect your ear canals are impacted with wax, see your doctor or an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist) who can easily see if you have a problem. They may recommend over the counter ear drops that, when used over a period of days, can soften and slough off minor wax buildup. If the cerumen impaction is too severe for this option, they can use gentle water irrigation to wash the wax plug out. Never try to remove the wax yourself using a sharp object inserted into the ear or ear candling – both of these options can cause permanent harm to your ears.
2. Get some quiet time
Exposure to loud noise, even with hearing protection, can lead to a temporary hearing loss called temporary threshold shift (TTS). People who attend loud concerts or have noisy hobbies can also experience TTS for as much as one full day following the noise exposure. While TTS will resolve itself in most cases, repeated and frequent exposure means it takes longer for the ears to recover, and they may not recover fully each time. It is the repeated exposure to noise and the frequent short-duration losses of hearing that eventually lead to permanent noise-induced hearing loss.
Standards set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) require your employer to keep you out of heavy noise work environments for at least 14 hours prior to your hearing screening, or they must provide hearing protection. This amount of time is the minimum you should allow your ears to rest. If possible, try to extend this time even more. Perhaps try to have your hearing test following a day off from work in which you avoid noisy hobbies, holiday parades, fireworks, live music events, or even mowing the lawn. Resting your ears ensures they will be in their best shape for your test.
3. Be well
In the body, almost everything is connected somehow. When you get sick with a cold or the flu, you won’t just feel bad, your hearing will likely be affected, too. An illness that affects your breathing or sinuses has the potential to cause a buildup of fluid in your normally air-filled middle ear space. This space houses three tiny but mighty ear bones that are responsible for transmitting sound to your inner ear. If these bones become surrounded by fluid, they can’t work effectively, and you will experience a hearing loss that resolves itself once you are well again.
Taking care of your health to avoid getting the flu or a cold is good practice anyway, but especially important if you have a hearing test coming up. Eat well, wash your hands often and properly, get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water prior to your hearing test. If you get sick, follow up with the treatment plan from your doctor. If all of that fails and you find yourself sick the day before your hearing test, it’s best to reschedule when you feel better.
Preparing for your hearing test will ensure you get an accurate picture of your hearing ability and is a big step in taking responsibility for your continued hearing health.