5 Types of Hearing Tests to Expect During a Hearing Exam
So, you’ve decided it’s time to have your hearing checked. Congratulations! That’s the hardest step to take. Even if you’ve already committed to an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional, you might have questions. Don’t worry – you’ll be walked through what to expect and given precise instructions about your role through each step of the exam before it happens. Meanwhile, get familiar with these five types of tests you can expect during a typical hearing exam.
The pure-tone test is straightforward: it measures the quietest tone you can hear, from low to high pitches (frequencies). You’ll be given a pair of headphones to wear so the test can isolate results for each of your ears. You’ll then respond to the tones you hear by speaking, signaling with your hand or pressing a button. As you respond, your results will be recorded on an audiogram: a visual graph of your hearing abilities.
Speech tests like the speech response threshold (SRT) are used to back up the results of pure-tone testing. These tests record the faintest speech you’re capable of hearing and repeating back at normal volumes. To test whether you have difficulty hearing conversation in noisy environments (a common problem with hearing loss), this test will be given with both quiet and loud backgrounds. Speech testing results are also recorded on an audiogram.
Middle ear tests
Middle ear tests are grouped into three main types:
- Tympanometry is a fancy word for a method that uses air pressure to test your eardrum’s function. As air pressure pushes on the eardrum, hearing health care professionals can determine its mobility. This test can also help detect fluid, punctures to the eardrum and other blockages in the ear canal.
- Acoustic reflex tests measure the vibrations of the tiny middle ear muscles in response to sound. The threshold or absence of these vibrations offers insight into the type of hearing loss you’re experiencing.
- Static acoustic impedance measures the volume of air in the ear canal, revealing air leaks that could indicate a perforated eardrum and other tubular problems.
Auditory brainstem response (ABR)
This test is used to determine the function of your inner ear and the pathway sound takes from this final hearing organ to the seat of auditory processing in brain. Your hearing health care professional will attach tiny electrodes (like those used in an electrocardiogram) to your head, which measure your brainwave activity in response to sounds. The best thing about this one is that you aren’t expected to respond – just sit back and let your brain do the work.
Otoacoustic emissions tests (OAE)
Just as an acoustic reflex test measures vibrations of the middle ear, an otoacoustic emissions test measures very soft vibrations created by hair cells in the inner ear in response to sound. This helps hearing health care professionals determine the degree of hearing loss, since hair cells in people with more severe hearing loss do not make these emissions. To complete the test, a tiny probe will be inserted in your ear canal while you’re exposed to sound.
Beyond these basic five hearing test categories, your hearing healthcare professional may decide to do more specialized testing based on your symptoms (and the results of the basic tests).
Now that you have a good understand of what to expect from hearing exam tests, you’ll be more confident going in to your hearing evaluation appointment.