The Ins and Outs of a Hearing Test – what they are and what they measure
Hearing loss can creep up on you. Initially you think people are mumbling when they are talking to you. Then you wonder why the television doesn’t sound as clear as it used to. One day you realize that you just asked someone to repeat themselves three times. Suddenly you wonder if you are suffering from hearing loss. That can be difficult to accept, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be old. It can happen for many reasons and at any age.
If you suspect that you are suffering with hearing loss the first thing you need to do is schedule a hearing test, or an audiogram. You can take our online questionnaire to further clarify what you are experiencing and help you decide if you need a hearing test.
What do hearing tests do?
A hearing test is conducted to examine the ear and how well you can hear. Clinically speaking, the test measures how well sound travels through the ear canal and reaches your brain. Because there are different types of hearing loss, different tools and tests are used to measure the function of hearing.
There is a difference between a hearing screening and a hearing test.
- A hearing screening is a quick “pass-fail” exam that divides people into two groups: those who have no hearing loss and those who need a more detailed hearing test.
- A hearing test is an in-depth evaluation of an individual’s hearing and is conducted by an audiologist. It determines the nature and degree of the hearing loss and the best treatment options. Find out more at ASHA.org.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says that the most common tests used to evaluate hearing are:
- Pure-Tone Testing
- Speech Testing
- Tests of the Middle Ear
- Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)
Hearing tests don’t hurt. Some are conducted in a hearing booth and some require a response from you indicating whether or not you have heard a sound. Each ear is tested individually. We like the way ASHA describes each test, so with their help, here is an explanation of what the most common hearing tests are like:
Pure tone testing
Pure tone audiometry uses a machine called an audiometer to play a series of tones for you to listen to while wearing headphones. The tones vary in pitch and loudness. The audiologist will control the volume of each tone reducing it to a point where you can no longer hear it and then increasing the volume again. You will raise your hand or press a button each time you can hear the tone. Then you will take off the headphones and a special vibrating device will be placed on the bone behind your ear. You will be asked to raise your hand or signal each time you hear the tone.
Tuning fork tests
A tuning fork is a metal, two-pronged device that makes a tone when it vibrates. The audiologist performing the test hits the tuning fork to make it vibrate and produce a tone. These tests check how well sound moves through your ear. Sometimes the tuning fork will be placed on your head or behind your ear. Depending on how you hear the sound, the audiologist can tell if there is a problem with the auditory nerves or with sound getting to the nerves.
Speech reception and word recognition tests
Speech reception and word recognition tests measure how well you can hear and understand normal speech. In these tests, the audiologist will cover his or her mouth as they speak a series of familiar two-syllable words at different volumes. You will be asked to repeat the words. The test finds the level at which you can repeat at least half of the list.
Auditory brain stem response (ABR) testing
Auditory brain stem response (ABR) testing checks for sensorineural hearing loss. In this test, electrodes are placed on your scalp and on each earlobe. Clicking noises are then sent through earphones. The electrodes track your brain’s response to the clicking noises and record the response on a graph. Read more about sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL).
The good news is that there are many effective ways to diagnose hearing loss. Whether it is caused by exposure to loud noises, long-term medication and antibiotic use, or damage to nerves in the inner ear, advanced technology and different kinds of hearing aids can help you compensate for hearing loss. The first step is a hearing test so you know if you have a hearing loss and, if you do, the type of hearing loss.