Friday, September 10, 2004

Annual Hearing Screenings

In my work as a speech-language therapist in public schools, I am required to look at the ears of kids in Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade, and Fifth Grade in all three of my schools. This involves looking into the ears with an otoscope (a hand-held flashlight like doctors use), doing an impedance test (a small tube is placed in the student's ear, air moves from the tube to the eardrum and back into the tube, which is connected to a machine that measures the student's middle ear function) and a puretone test ("Raise your hand when you hear the beep in the headphones!")

Looking in all those ears means viewing lots and lots of cerumen (the fancy name for earwax). For example, today I looked in the ears of 98 students... that means 196 ear canals altogether. I can tell you, it's enough to make me swear off eating caramel for weeks, let alone eating browned crumble-top desserts. I work with other therapists, and we help out at each others' schools to expedite the screenings. At each school we always select "The Cerumen King" and "The Cerumen Queen", that is, those students with the most amusingly grotesque wax... Some of us are very easily and strangely amused, eh.

When the kids listen to the beeps in the headphones, we are seeing if they can hear pure tones at different frequencies and different volume levels. A jet plane taking off is something like 110 decibels (dB). Normal ears are able to hear puretones at 20 dB or less, which is pretty quiet. The frequencies at which people hear speech sounds are 1000 Hertz (Hz), 2000 Hz, and 4000 Hz. Quiet speech sounds like "TH" and "F" are more in the higher frequency range of 6000 Hz, and we test at 8000 Hz to see if the kids are able to hear high-pitched background noises such as the hum of a flourescent light or the chirping of birds. Probably from playing in a rock band, I am beginning to lose hearing at 6000 and 8000 Hz in my left ear. At those frequencies, I don't hear sounds until they are presented at around 50 dB... time for me to get some musicians' earplugs.

Anyway, today I was testing a fifth-grade student who had heard all the sounds and passed his screening. He was a nice guy and we had been joking prior to me placing the headphones over his ears. At the very end, I told him "Just one more set of beeps. You might have a hard time hearing these next ones." I then turned up the dB level to 80, and pressed the button which sent the beeps into his headphones... the sound wasn't loud enough to hurt his ears, but it did make him jump! After I took off the headphones, I looked him in the eye and said "Can you hear me now?" You should have seen him raise his eyebrows... and them burst out into laughter! Kids are so much fun, and I love getting them to laugh!

As Bugs Bunny would say: "Ain't I a stinkah?" 8-)>


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