A hearing test, also commonly called an audiometry evaluation, is the painless and noninvasive procedure that helps measure your ability to detect frequencies, pitches, or sounds. There are a variety of reasons that a person might undergo a hearing test to determine the existence and degree of potential hearing loss. Some patients might have a tumor around or inside the ear that might impede their hearing, and so they take a hearing test to determine any hearing loss levels before surgery. Hearing tests are also used in different cases of hearing loss to help an audiologist determine whether surgery or hearing aids might improve your hearing.
How the Test Works
The ear is made up of three parts: the inner, middle, and outer ear. Using a hearing test, an audiologist can determine whether you have conductive hearing loss or sensorineural hearing loss. Conductive loss is caused by a blockage or damage to the bones, while sensorineural is caused by damage to the auditory nerve or the tiny hairs that vibrate to detect sound. An audiometry evaluation may involve a variety of different hearing metrics to pinpoint the source and severity of either type of hearing loss.
A pure tone test will measure the quietest sound that you can detect. Throughout the test, you’ll be wearing noise-blocking headphones. A range of different sounds will be played into one ear or the other. The tones will determine the quietest decibel level you can hear, along with the highest and lowest frequencies that you can detect.
There’s also a test called a word recognition test, which is used to determine whether an individual can separate distinct speech from noise in the background. Poor speech discrimination may cause words to sound mumbled or garbled when offset by background noise. The word recognition test sometimes helps audiologists to predict how useful a hearing aid will be.
Another test, called a tympanometry test, is done to assess physical damage to the ear like tumors inside the middle ear, damage to the bones, perforations in the eardrum, and buildups of fluid or wax. Finally, there’s acoustic reflex testing that’s designed to evaluate the way the nervous system interprets and reacts to sound.
Preparing for the Test
The test will be performed by an audiologist. Becker ENT Center’s expert team of audiologists in Central New Jersey put together an evaluation for prospective patients to determine if they are losing their hearing and what diagnostic measures would be best. During a consultation, you’ll be asked questions about your family history, personal history, environment, and any past events that might have influenced the hearing loss.
Hearing tests don’t require any specialized preparation. One thing you should do is try to stay still and be quiet so that the sound of your movements doesn’t skew the test results. For a hearing test to give an accurate reading, it needs to be conducted in perfect silence so there aren’t any unknown variables.
The Actual Test Procedure
The test will be conducted inside a quiet and soundproofed room. This helps to eliminate outside noises that might interfere with your ability to hear the sounds. A pair of earphones will be put over your ears. You’ll sit and be asked not to talk.
The headphones connect to a specialized machine that’s designed to deliver the different test tones and speech sounds. You’ll be asked to raise your hand each time you hear a sound. When you hear it in the left ear, you’ll raise your left hand; when you hear it in the right ear, you’ll raise your right hand.
Depending on the facility, you might be asked to press a button instead to indicate that you’ve recognized a sound. As the test progresses, the audiologist will record the lowest volumes that you were capable of hearing each tone. Either following or directly before the tone test, there will be tuning forks used to conduct Weber and Rinne tests. This helps evaluate whether you have different types of hearing loss.
During the speech discrimination test, the audiologist will ask you to repeat back whatever words you hear. The test will involve ongoing two-syllable words that slowly decrease in volume. During the test’s second stage, you’ll be subjected to several one-syllable words at an unchanging volume.
When you have an acoustic reflex and tympanometry test done, the audiologist will place a soft earplug into the ear. This plug causes pressure changes inside the ear. It will also emit loud noises. Electronic equipment inside will track and record the responses you have to the different pressures and sounds. The test will measure how your eardrum moves, along with how well the reflexes in your tiny ear muscles are working.
There are no risks associated with the test. It tends to be a very calm and relaxed procedure overall.
Receiving the Test Results
Because the audiologist and the recording equipment take down data of your responses in real-time, you’ll get your test results right away. You don’t have to do any waiting for lab analysis. The audiologist will explain how you scored in different areas, how that compares to normal ranges, and what that might mean about your hearing loss.
The test results and report will be sent to the physician who referred you. That might be your primary care physician, ENT, or a neurosurgeon. You’ll make an appointment to talk with them about what the test results tell you regarding your hearing, the underlying condition causing any hearing loss and your treatment options for the future.
As a general rule of thumb, hearing loss follows these ranges:
● If you’re able to detect sounds under 25 decibels, there’s no hearing loss
● Mild hearing loss occurs when you detect sounds between 25 and 40 decibels
● Moderate hearing loss is 41 to 65 decibels
● Severe hearing loss is 66 to 90 decibels
● Profound hearing loss is being unable to hear any tone that reaches higher than 90 decibels