Better hearing begins with a hearing test
The signs of hearing loss are usually subtle and develop over time. If people around you constantly complain that your TV is too loud, or if you have a hard time following conversations in a noisy environment, especially in group discussions, a hearing test is absolutely necessary. To find out if you have a hearing loss, only a licensed hearing care professional – audiologist or hearing aid specialist – should evaluate your hearing. This requires an appointment with a local hearing care professional, who will use the proper techniques and equipment to provide you with accurate results. Based on your results, your hearing test will yield all the relevant data that will help the specialist recommend the right treatment for you. In the case of tinnitus, a hearing test would also be the first step an ear doctorw would take to evaluate your tinnitus.
Would you like to find out if you have a hearing loss before visiting an audiologist's office? Answer a few questions on the form located to the right side of this page to receive a free consultation with one of our hearing aid experts. You will also receive a personalized hearing analysis with more information about the quality of your hearing.
General information about hearing tests (audiometry)
Before an audiologist can perform a hearing test, an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist) should examine your ear canals for any sort of obstruction such as earwax (cerumen). If you arrive to the specialist's office for a hearing evaluation with your ears clogged, you may be asked to see an ENT to have the obstruction removed. This will ensure accurate test results and a proper diagnosis. Therefore, it is important that you prepare for your hearing test by first consulting an ENT. Once your ear canals are ready for examination, your hearing care professional will perform either a subjective hearing test, an objective hearing test, or combination of the two. All of these tests fall under the umbrella of audiometry exams, which are useful in diagnosing conductive, sensorineural, or mixed hearing loss. Most of the tests will require you to sit in a quiet, soundproof room, with headphones or earphones placed over or in your ears. The headphones/earphones are connected to an audiometer, allowing the specialist to transmit sounds to your ears and record your responses on an audiogram.
Subjective hearing test
A subjective hearing test requires your cooperation whereas the objective hearing test does not. During a subjective hearing test, the specialist will play certain noises, sounds, or words and ask you to make a gesture in response to these sounds. This will allow the specialist to assess the severity of your hearing loss and recommend an appropriate treatment. Subjective hearing tests include pure-tone audiometry, speech audiometry, and reflex audiometry.
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A pure-tone audiometry requires you to sit in a quiet room with headphones/earphones on. The specialist will then play a variety of "pure" tones at different volumes, and you will be asked to give a signal (i.e. raise a finger, press a button) once you hear each tone. Your answers will indicate the tones you are having trouble hearing and will be recorded on your audiogram. Your threshold for a certain tone is determined by the softest level you are able to hear.
The results of your exam will show how well your outer and middle ear structures can process sounds. This is also referred to as an air-conduction test. When this air-conduction test shows a hearing loss, the specialist may perform a bone-conduction test to differentiate between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. The bone-conduction test is similar to the air-conduction test in the sense that the same process is utilized. Instead of headphones, a device comfortably placed behind your ear is used to transmit the tones that will pass through your skull and inner ear, bypassing your outer and middle ear. You will then be asked to respond to the tones in the same way as the air-conduction test. This method may provide a more accurate assessment of your inner ear’s hearing capacity without any interference from your outer or middle ear.
Speech is another tool that can help determine how well you hear. A hearing test that utilizes speech requires you to repeat two-syllable words while a tone gradually decreases to lower levels. The results of this test will indicate the level you are able to hear and understand certain sounds. A hearing test that utilizes speech may also include a word-recognition exam, where the specialist will ask you to repeat certain words to determine how well you are able to hear and understand speech. Comprehension is also examined by listening and repeating one-syllable words that are played at a comfortable listening level.
Objective hearing test
An objective hearing test is useful in identifying damage to the inner ear and assessing your quality of hearing. Objective hearing tests do not require your cooperation and are typically performed on newborns and infants. Objective hearing tests include otoacoustic emission (OAE), acoustic brainstem response (ABR), acoustic reflex test, and tympanometry.
Otoacoustic emission (OAE) test
A way to identify inner ear (cochlea) damage leading to a hearing impairment is to perform an otoacoustic emision test. During this hearing evaluation, a doctor inserts a probe that emits sounds into your ear canal. These sounds stimulate the inner ear, causing the outer hair cells to vibrate. The doctor will use the probe to measure the inner ear's ability to produce the soft sounds created by the vibration (emissions). If the inner ear does not produce emissions, a hearing impairment may be present.
Auditory brainstem response (ABR)
An audiologist may perform this test to gain more information about your hearing sensitivity. The audiologist places a few electrodes on your head, which will measure how the hearing nerves respond to the sounds made through earphones. The information travels from the electrodes to a computer that will record the results. The audiologist will review the data and look for the softest intensity in a specific frequency range at which your hearing nerves respond.
Acoustic reflex test
An acoustic reflex test locates the possible location of a hearing impairment. This hearing test uses sounds to determine if an acoustic reflex is working properly. Depending on the loudness of the sound and your acoustic reflex (or lack of acoustic reflex), the audiologist will be able to assess the severity of your hearing loss.
A tympanometry allows hearing specialists to diagnose problems in the middle ear and any disorders causing hearing loss. During a tympanometry, you will hear loud tones from a probe inserted in your ear canal. This probe will measure your hearing ability, as well the movements of your eardrum as the air pressure in your ear changes during the exam. A tympanogram will record your results, and the audiologist will use this information to properly diagnose any complications with your hearing.
The results of your hearing tests are typically recorded on an audiogram. Therefore, it is important you understand how to read your audiogram. The purpose of the audiogram is to visually demonstrate the sounds you can hear normally and the sounds you are missing. The top of the chart indicates normal hearing; the further down the chart you go, the more challenging it may be for you to hear and understand certain sounds. For example, consonant sounds – t, s, f, th, k, sh, ch – are higher pitched and spoken more softly than vowels. If you are having trouble hearing these sounds, your test results will yield this information on the chart. Missing sounds in the higher ranges means, you can “hear” them but can't really understand them. Some specialists will use the left side of the chart to indicate the percentage of your hearing loss.
Initial hearing screening with hear.com
Before you see an audiologist, a hearing screening with hear.com will help put you on your path toward better hearing. Simply contact us for a free consultation, and we will equip you with all the necessary information on hearing loss and available treatments. During your consultation, one of our hearing aid experts will speak to you about your specific hearing situation, your needs, your lifestyle, and other relevant information. After the consultation, you will be prepared to visit one of our partner providers near you, where you will then have a hearing test. Based on the results of your test, the hearing specialist will recommend suitable hearing aids, which you will be able to test for 45 days. We are confident that your hearing and your overall health will dramatically improve with your new hearing aids.