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Hearing Loss Tests

The problem with hearing loss is that it can affect anyone. Often the hearing loss is so gradual an individual doesn’t even realize they have an issue. With hearing loss being the third most occurring chronic condition facing adults in the United States, it’s important to remain educated and proactive in hearing health.

An individual who has difficulty understanding what people are saying, especially in background noise, experiences muffled hearing, cannot find a comfortable volume level for the television or radio or has ringing of the ears (tinnitus), should schedule an appointment with a hearing health provider.

A hearing health survey

family history, hearing loss, doctor consultTo determine whether or not an individual is suffering from hearing loss, a hearing health practitioner will usually start by asking for a family or medical history. Because there are a number of causes of hearing loss, the hearing professional will want to consider anything inherited or genetic. Hearing loss also can be the result of a bad head cold, allergies and other common ailments, which would require a different method of treatment than other types. Also, your audiologist might ask if you’ve experienced any trauma to the head or ear structure recently. Any kind of harm or injury to the cranial area can result in temporary or permanent hearing damage.

In addition, the hearing healthcare professional also may discuss your exposure to loud noises or if you work in a loud environment. Noise-induced hearing loss is very common in the sound-filled world we live in and can sometimes be temporary, also requiring a different course of treatment.

Lastly, the hearing health professional might ask what types of hearing loss symptoms are being exhibited. It is important for the audiologist to know how much a hearing loss is affecting an individual and what kind of hindrance it is having on day-to-day life.

Once a thorough history has been taken, a hearing health provider will generally perform a hearing test or exam.

Getting a hearing test

The purpose of a hearing test is to determine not only whether or not an individual has a loss, but how severe it is and what course of treatment should be applied. Most hearing tests require individuals to be in a quiet, sound-treated room with special headphones or earplugs to wear. These headphones are usually connected to an audiometer. The sound-treated space is designed to keep out any other noises which might hinder an individual’s hearing exam scores, such as the heater, air conditioner or office environment.

A sound booth used for hearing evaluations is generally equipped with speakers for testing infants, small children and patients who are already wearing hearing aids or have cochlear implants. The sound field testing should be done with the patient sitting the acoustic center of the space.

Once in the booth, the individual will be asked to listen to a variety of tones and the test will keep track of what sounds an individual is struggling to hear. This part of the exam is usually known as the pure-tone audiometry. In the event a patient isn’t sure whether or not they hear a sound, they should respond, the hearing care professional will notify them if they’re responding too often. This part of the exam can help the audiologist decide whether or not a particular pitch or frequency is more troubling to the individual.

Speech audiometry is another way to test an individual’s threshold, but it only uses speech tones as opposed to pure tones. This test may be delivered by a recording or live voice. This exam evaluates threshold and how well an individual can understand and interpret words when presented at a particular level.

As part of a hearing exam, the audiologist also may test a person’s tympanometry and acoustic reflexes. In the event they proceed with this, a soft plug will be placed in the ear which can change pressure and generate noises. This will help gauge how your eardrum is moving and will measure its reflexive responses.

Understanding the hearing test results

Audiograms show right ear results in red, left ear results in blue.

Once the hearing health practitioner has performed the necessary tests, they will counsel the individual on the results and will recommend treatment or further testing. Usually test results are presented on an audiogram. An audiogram is a graph that displays the softest sounds an individual can hear at different pitches. The vertical axis of an audiogram represents the intensity or level of the sounds. The horizontal axis usually depicts the frequency or pitch of the sound.

An individual’s results will be plotted as units of hearing threshold level. These units are completely unique to hearing tested and will measure using actual sound pressure levels. An audiogram is standardized so the “average” hearing ability is equalized across all pitches. For each tone or word an individual recorded hearing, a mark will be made on the audiogram to indicate the response. Each ear is tested separately, which will be represented using two lines.

Generally the lines follow a similar pattern. In the event two ears have very drastic hearing differences, the practitioner may schedule further exams to determine the cause of this.

Once the hearing health professional has determined an individual’s degree of hearing loss, which can be mild, moderate, severe or profound, they will advise the patient on what the right course of treatment is.

In the event an individual needs hearing aids, the audiologist will likely discuss the options available. Hearing aids are generally selected not only depending on the loss experienced by the person, but the lifestyle they desire, and the budget and features they would like their devices to have.

While hearing aids cannot restore or cure hearing loss, they do make it easier for individuals to hear and communicate on a daily basis. Modern hearing aids are all digital and can be made in a variety of options to be more stylish or discreet.

Having a hearing test performed is the first step to treating a possible loss. If an individual suspects hearing loss, an appointment should be made with a hearing healthcare provider in the area as soon as possible.

References

  1. Hearing screening and testing, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Hearing-Testing/
  2. Hearing loss: tests and diagnosis, Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hearing-loss/DS00172/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis

This content was last reviewed on: July 2nd, 2013