A hearing test is the most reliable way to diagnose hearing loss. Symptoms often develop gradually, and many people grow accustomed to the reduction in their hearing abilities, overlooking the fact that they are suffering from a hearing impairment. Individuals aged 50 or older are encouraged to add routine hearing tests to their annual health screening regimen. Older adults aren’t the only ones who benefit from hearing tests; newborns and toddlers should also have their hearing tested in order to prevent developmental delays in speech and language.
Hearing tests are comfortable, safe and painless.
Following a physical examination and questions about your symptoms and overall hearing health, you will enter a sound booth and will be asked to identify a series of words and tones that vary in volume and frequency. Results are plotted on a chart called an audiogram, and enable your audiologist to determine the type and degree of hearing loss. This information is then used to come up with an appropriate treatment solution.
There are several different types of hearing tests. Any of the following might be administered.
- Speech Testing. Speech, or word recognition, testing is used to identify the quietest level of speech you can comprehend 50%of the time. In addition, it helps identify your ability to separate speech from background noise.
- Air Conduction Testing. Also referred to as pure tone audiometry, this test relies on air conduction to measure your hearing sensitivity. You are given a pair of headphones and asked to identify pure (single frequency) tones by pushing a button, raising a hand or replying verbally. The softest sounds you are able to hear at each pitch are used as a threshold to determine how well you can hear, and whether you have a conductive or sensorineural hearing loss.
- Bone Conduction Testing. This is similar to air conduction testing, but instead of putting on headphones, a metal instrument known as a tuning fork is placed on your head and struck. This creates vibrations that travel through the skull bones directly to the inner ear. Because sound bypasses the outer and middle ears, your audiologist is able to easily identify whether your hearing loss is conductive or sensorineural.
- Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Testing. In an ABR test, you are given headphones to wear and electrodes are attached to your head, scalp and earlobes. These are used to measure your brainwave activity in response to a series of clicking sounds that are sent through the headphones. ABR is frequently used in newborn hearing screenings, and can detect a sensorineural hearing loss.
- Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) Testing. OAE testing utilizes a probe fitted with a microphone and speaker. When placed in your ear canal, a sound is produced to stimulate the cochlea, vibrating the hair cells. This produces a faint sound called an otoacoustic emission. Any hearing loss that exceeds 25-30 decibels will fail to produce an OAE.