How can the NHS help you?
In the NHS your first port of call should be to visit your doctor for an appointment where they will be able to check if your ears are clear.
If you have some wax, you may be prescribed some eardrops, which will soften or help dissolve the wax, have your ears syringed or be referred for wax removal at the hospital. Once your ears are completely clear, the doctor will make a referral to the hospital.
Your doctor may discuss the different local departments with you so you can choose which clinic you would like to be seen at. This appointment should take place no more than six weeks after you have visited your doctor.
If you are over 60 years old, generally you can be referred straight to the Audiology department for a hearing assessment to see if you would benefit from a hearing aid.
What is a hearing assessment?
In this appointment, the Audiologist will spend up to an hour assessing your hearing. You would normally have your ears looked into, have a hearing test, be asked about any medical history, mainly relating to your ears – and the audiologist should talk to you about the situations in which you have noticed you are starting to struggle with your hearing.
From all of this information will come a discussion with you about whether you would benefit from having a hearing aid.
The team will discuss the type of hearing aid (and show you what the hearing aid will look like) and whether you would like to have one or two hearing aids. The audiologist will establish how you feel about having a hearing aid and whether it is something you want to proceed with now. If you are happy to trial the hearing aids you may have the shape of your ear taken for an earmould which needs to be sent to a manufacturer to be processed.
You will be booked back for a further appointment to have your hearing aid fitted; this has to be within 12 weeks of the hearing assessment, though many departments will see you much more quickly than this. More about hearing tests and audiograms.
Prepare for your first appointment
It can be a good idea to prepare yourself for the appointment and the decisions you will make if the hearing test is positive. This will help ensure that your needs and concerns are taken care of. It will also guide the audiologist so that they can recommend the best treatment for you. Useful guidance about your audiology appointment from the Ida Institute.
What does an referral to ENT mean?
Some people may also be referred to the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) department for a further opinion. Those who are under 60 will in the first place be referred to an ENT clinic for an assessment. The appointment will be similar to the one with Audiology, parts of which will be conducted by a consultant rather than an audiologist. The consultant will assess if there is any active ear disease which can be managed by medication or through having an operation.
For all ages, hearing aids are only part of the options you may be offered. The audiologist may discuss other equipment (such as amplified telephones) which may help, lip-reading classes may be offered, hints and tips on making the most of communication, or, if you have seen the ENT doctor he or she may have discussed medical or surgical options to help with your type of hearing loss.
The assessment appointment is always about providing you with information on whether you have a hearing loss or not, and, if you have, what options are available.
Making the NHS accessible
The new Accessible Information Standard comes into play in August 2016 across England. Its aim is to make sure that all organisations who provide NHS or social care make their information accessible for all people in a way they can understand and by providing any communication support they need.
This means you should tell your NHS/social care professional:
- If you lipread, use hearing aids, cochlear implants, hearing loop systems or British Sign Language
- What communication support you require for appointments e.g. a lipspeaker, speech-to-text reporter, notetaker, BSL interpreter
- How you wish them to contact you e.g. by telephone, email, SMS/text or Next Generation Text Service (NGTS)
Print out this Communication Card and template letter, produced by Action on Hearing Loss, and hand them to the practice manager at your GP surgery to ensure that your communication needs are met.
More information about the Accessible Information Standard can be found here: https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/patients/accessibleinfo/