This may be the first time you’ve had your hearing assessed. Your doctor may have referred you to our office or your spouse may have suggested checking your hearing. What is involved in a typical hearing test? How soon will you know the results? What do the results mean? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.
Why should I have my hearing tested?
Often, people come into our office wondering why a hearing test is important. Our hearing is one of our senses that can slowly change over time. It may take several years to notice there has been a decline in hearing. Usually, family members or friends may notice the difficulty first and suggest you have your hearing assessed. If there is any concern about the hearing ability, I would recommend having a hearing test.
What are we looking for in a hearing test?
The major focus of a hearing test is your individual hearing ability across different tones (frequencies). This determines what sounds and environments you would have difficulty hearing. A hearing test also looks for the potential cause of the hearing loss. Looking into the ear canal allows us to see if wax is blocking the ear canal. Performing some other tests determines whether the hearing loss is due to a medical issue (e.g. ear infection, trauma, injury, virus, etc.). This information allows us to make the proper referral to specialists or other medical professionals.
What tests are performed during a hearing test?
There are several tests performed during a standard hearing assessment to help us determine your hearing ability and ear function.
First, with an otoscope (a lighted magnifier) allows us to examine the ear and ear canal. During this test, we are examining the ear to determine whether wax is present. We are also looking for any signs of infection, inflammation, or previous surgeries.
Second, we will perform a test called tympanometry. There is a machine, called a tympanometer, which has a wand with a probe tip on the end. The probe tip is placed in the ear canal opening and some pressure and sound are introduced into the ear. The test is measuring how much sound is absorbed through the ear drum and how much sound bounces back. There is an ideal amount of sound we would like to see absorbed, which indicates proper function of the ear drum. If we measure something outside of normal, it can indicate fluid behind the ear drum or stiffening of the ear drum.
Third, we will perform pure tone audiometry. You are sitting in a sound proof booth and insert earphones are placed in your ears. I will use a machine called an audiometer to present different tones of varying loudness into each ear. I am looking for your thresholds (i.e. lowest level you could hear a particular sound) in each ear separately. These responses are plotted on a graph, an audiogram.
Next, we will perform some speech testing. Typically, you will be presented with a list of words that you need to repeat back to me. These words cover all the different sounds present in our regular speech. I will record how many words you correctly repeat back. We may also perform another speech test where the volume of the words decreases as we proceed. This test is looking for your threshold to speech understanding.
Finally, if there is a hearing loss present, we will perform bone conduction testing. For this test, a small bone conductor/vibrator will be placed behind your ear on the bone. Different tones will again be presented through this conductor. Again, we are measuring your threshold responses. This type of testing allows us to better determine the site of the hearing loss along the hearing pathway.
Once all these tests are performed, the results are examined and explained to you. Based on the results, we will make recommendations for your next step.
How often do I need to have my hearing tested?
As we get older, it is important to have your hearing assessed regularly. Often, once every year or two years is recommended. If you are experiencing any sudden changes in your hearing, I would not hesitate to contact us right away.