What Does a Hearing Test Measure?
An audiologist uses a hearing test to measure your type, degree and configuration of hearing loss. An audiology evaluation consists of a series of one or more of these tests. Your audiologist will use your test results to create a treatment plan for your unique hearing loss.
Who Should Have Their Hearing Tested?
An audiology (or hearing) evaluation can benefit patients of all ages, even those who do not show signs of hearing loss. Experts recommend having your hearing tested every 10 years until age 50. For those 50 and older, you should visit your audiologist for a hearing exam every three years.
Why Should You Have a Regular Hearing Test?
Hearing loss is a progressive condition that often develops slowly. Many people are not aware of a change in their hearing because they adjust to the loss over a long period of time. Studies indicate that it takes seven years, on average, for a hearing impaired individual to seek treatment.
Take the First Step Toward Treating Your Hearing Loss
An audiology evaluation should be the first step for anybody who suspects a loss of hearing; the sooner it is diagnosed, the more successful treatment will be. Early detection means more options for you, your partner or a loved one with hearing loss.
The Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss
When left untreated, hearing loss can damage your physical health, emotional well-being and professional success. This includes:
- Increasing your risk of cognitive decline.
- Increasing your feelings of depression, anger and anxiety.
- Reducing job performance
- Leading to difficulty concentrating and storing new information.
- Increasing your likelihood of suffering physical injuries, specifically falls.
Many physicians believe you should make audiology evaluations a routine part of your overall health care, just like regular vision exams and dental checkups. Hearing tests are quick, painless and provide immediate results.
What Are the Different Types of Hearing Tests?
An audiology evaluation includes a physical examination, a review of your medical history and diagnostic tests that measure different aspects of your hearing. You will be given any or all of the following tests:
Pure Tone Testing
Pure-tone testing (also known as pure tone audiometry) uses air conduction to measure your ability to hear sounds of different pitches and volumes.
How Is a Pure Tone Audiometry Test Done?
While wearing a pair of medical-grade headphones you will be asked to identify a series of tones by raising a hand, pressing a button or responding verbally.
Pure Tone Testing Results
The results are charted on an audiogram, a graph that shows the type, degree and configuration of your hearing loss by comparing pitch (frequency) with loudness (intensity). The recorded pattern will help your audiologist determine your hearing threshold (the level at which you can no longer detect sound).
Bone Conduction Testing
Bone conduction testing is another type of pure-tone test bypasses the outer and middle ear and measures the inner ear’s response to sound. If there is damage or a blockage in the outer or middle ear, or the pure tone responses suggest a hearing deficit bone conduction audiometry testing will be used.
How Is a Bone Conduction Testing Done?
Instead of sending the tones through the ear, this test is able to bypass the outer and middle ear and send the tone directly to the inner ear. Bone conduction testing uses a small vibrator placed behind the ear. The device sends out a vibration that passes through the skull bone to reach the inner ear.
Bone Conduction Testing Results
If the results of this test are different than the air conduction test, your audiologist can use this information to determine whether you have a conductive or sensorineural hearing loss.
Alternatively, a two-pronged metal tuning fork may be placed behind the ear or on the forehead. When vibrated, it produces a tone that travels to the inner ear via the skull. Your response determines how well sound travels through different parts of your ear, helping the audiologist diagnose your type of hearing loss.
Speech (or word recognition) testing is used to measure your speech reception threshold (SRT), or the faintest speech you can understand 50 percent of the time. These results are compared with your pure-tone test results to confirm a diagnosis.
Speech testing may be administered in either a quiet or noisy environment; results are recorded on an audiogram for easy visual reference.
Tympanometry is a test of the middle ear used to detect fluid, abnormal ear pressure, eardrum perforations and tumors. It measures movement of the eardrum in response to air pressure; the results are recorded on a chart called a tympanogram.
Acoustic Reflex Testing
The acoustic reflex test measures involuntary muscle contractions of the middle ear, and is used to determine the location of your hearing problem (the ossicles, cochlea, auditory nerve, etc.) as well as the type of hearing loss.
Common Newborn Hearing Tests
Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)
Auditory brainstem response testing is used to determine whether a specific type of hearing loss – sensorineural – exists. It is also frequently used to screen newborns for hearing problems.
In an ABR test, electrodes are attached to your head, scalp or earlobes, and you are given headphones to wear. Your brainwave activity is measured in response to sounds of varying intensities.
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs)
Otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) are sounds generated by vibrations of the hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. OAE testing uses a tiny probe fitted with a microphone and speaker to stimulate the cochlea and measure its response. Individuals with hearing within normal limits will produce emissions; when a hearing loss is significant, no sound will be produced.
This test helps determine whether there is a blockage in the ear canal, excess fluid in the middle ear or damage to the hair cells of the cochlea. OAE testing is often included in newborn hearing screening programs.