Hearing tests are an important first step in diagnosing a hearing problem. They provide your audiologist with information on the type, degree and configuration of hearing loss, enabling them to put together a treatment plan geared toward your specific level of impairment.
Because hearing loss frequently develops gradually over time and its symptoms can be difficult to notice as the patient adjusts to limited hearing, tests are useful in detecting problems early, when options for treatment are more extensive and the odds of success are greater. Studies show that only 1 in 5 people with hearing loss are being treated, and on average, it takes seven years from the onset of symptoms before action is taken. Regular hearing tests, even in the absence of symptoms, can help many patients who are otherwise unaware of their condition.
Hearing tests are completely safe, and performed in a comfortable atmosphere. Patients are seated in a sound booth and their results are plotted on a chart called an audiogram. This offers the audiologist a great frame of reference when putting together a treatment plan.
Types of hearing tests
There are several different types of hearing tests; these are used to measure your response to specific frequencies and volume levels, and will help determine which part(s) of your ear are affected. You may be given one or several of the following hearing tests as part of your overall evaluation:
- Air Conduction Test (Pure Tone Audiometry). You’ll be asked to respond to a series of tones that differ in frequency and volume either by raising a hand, pushing a button or giving a verbal reply. This test will help determine whether your hearing loss is due to a problem in your outer, middle or inner ear(s).
- Bone Conduction Test. Like the air conduction test, you will be asked to respond to a series of tones. Instead of wearing headphones, a two-pronged metal “tuning fork” is placed on your head; as it is struck, vibrations produce mechanical tones that should stimulate the cochlea. Your response is a good indicator of how well these sounds are traveling through your ear.
- Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR). In this test, electrodes are attached around the head, scalp and earlobes. These measure your brainwave activity in response to clicking noises that are transmitted through a pair of headphones, and help your audiologist to determine if your hearing loss is originating in your inner ear. ABR testing is frequently used in newborn hearing screenings.
- Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE). OAE testing involves the insertion of a probe into the ear canal. This device is outfitted with a microphone and speaker and sound is generated once it is inside the ear canal. This noise should stimulate the hair cells of the cochlea and cause them to vibrate in response. These vibrations produce a sound of their own known as an otoacoustic emission. If no OAE occurs, your audiologist can deduce that your hearing loss exceeds 25-30 decibels. Like the ABR, OAE testing is frequently a component of a newborn hearing screening.
- Speech Reception Threshold. As its name implies, speech testing is a measurement of a patient’s ability to recognize words and phrases delivered at normal conversational levels. SRT testing measures the faintest sounds that can be heard 50 percent of the time, and may be administered in both quiet and noisy settings.