Getting your hearing tested: the experience
Getting your hearing examined is a painless and noninvasive procedure that will determine your level of hearing loss and any damage to the eardrum, inner ear or auditory nerve. Throughout a series of tests, an audiologist will collect information based on your responses to sound and pressure at different decibel levels and frequencies.
Beforehand, your audiologist may ask you a few questions about your health history, your exposure to loud noises, whether or not you have ever experienced head or ear trauma and if you are noticeably affected by hearing loss in your everyday life. After consultation, a battery of tests will be performed to better paint a picture of your hearing abilities.
What happens in the booth?
For most of the testing you'll head into a quiet, sound-treated room and have headphones to put on, which are connected to an audiometer. This sound-treated space will keep out any noise that could hinder your hearing exam scores, including the heater or air conditioning. In the booth you will have to sit still and refrain from talking. This part is called pure-tone audiometry. You will sometimes be unsure if you hear the tones or not but you should respond if you think you hear it. The hearing healthcare professional will let you know if you're responding too often to phantom signals so don't be shy.
The next portion of testing is called speech audiometry and is another way to test threshold, only it uses speech tones as opposed to pure tones. The test may be delivered from a recording or by live voice. If it's live voice, the practitioner is monitoring the level of their voice to make sure it stays at the proper testing level. The second part of the test is all done above your threshold and it's a test of how well you can understand words when they are presented at a level that you can hear. If you're not sure what the word is, it's OK to guess.
Your tympanometry and acoustic reflexes also may be tested. A soft plug will be placed in your ear, which can change pressure and make noises. The practitioner is checking to see how your eardrum is moving and trying to measure reflexive responses, similar to when the doctor taps your knee.
What does an audiogram mean?
After the testing, the practitioner will counsel you on the results and make recommendations for further testing, treatment or other follow-up. At this time, they will probably show you the audiogram. For each tone you heard, there will be a mark for the level at which you heard it. Each ear was tested separately, so you'll see two lines. Red circles or triangles are used to indicate the responses for the right ear, blue "X" marks or squares are used to indicate the responses for the left ear. If your hearing ability is vastly different for each ear, your practitioner will likely recommend some follow-up procedures to determine why this is the case. The practitioner will tell you how these tone thresholds compared to your speech responses and interpret the tympanometry and reflex results to you as well.
They will use this information, along with your preferences and lifestyle to make a hearing aid recommendation, if needed.