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What Hearing Tests Are There?

Ear Exam

While most people use the term “hearing test” - singular - there are actually a number of different tests audiologists can use to judge hearing capabilities. Below, we’ve detailed each of the different types of hearing tests, the circumstances in which they are most useful, and how the tests can be used in concert to provide a full overview of your hearing.

Pure tone audiometry

Pure tone tests are the most common form of hearing test. The test uses air conduction to measure the ability to hear sounds at different volumes and frequency levels. The person undergoing the test will sit in a soundproof area wearing headphones. When they hear a sound through the headphones, they will be asked to note it; this sometimes means raising your hand or pressing a designated button. The test takes around 20-30 minutes in total.

Bone conduction

A bone conduction test is designed to measure the inner ear’s responsiveness to sound stimuli. A conductor is placed behind the ear, which then sends vibrations - rather than sounds - through the bone to the ear canal. Bone conduction tests are predominantly used in addition to the pure-tone test in order to ascertain the type of hearing loss a person is experiencing.

Speech testing

Speech testing is used to establish how well an individual can separate speech from background noise. It is usually completed in a noisy environment, or - more commonly for clinic appointments - with a recording playing.

Tympanometry

Tympanometry seeks to measure how your eardrum responds to air pressure, and is primarily a diagnostic tool, helping to ascertain whether there is a buildup of fluid, ear wax, tumors, or eardrum perforation present. For a tympanometry test, a probe is inserted into the ear canal; the pressure in the canal is then adjusted while a single, pure tone is played, and the results measured for further analysis.

Acoustic reflex testing

This test is designed to measure the involuntary muscle contractions of the middle ear, which helps to determine both the location and type of hearing loss that is present. Loud, brief tones are played into each ear individually, with the level of loudness that is needed to elicit a response subsequently recorded.

Auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing

ABR testing is used when sensorineural hearing loss - hearing loss that relates to sensory or neural defects in the inner ear - is suspected. In this test, electrodes are attached across the scalp and earlobes, then headphones are placed over the ears. The wires then measure brainwave response to sounds played through the headphones.

Otoacoustic emissions testing

Otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) are sounds that are generated when the hair cells in the inner ear vibrate, and this test is used to check for blockages in the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, or damage to the hair cells themselves. The test involves the use of a probe - fitted with a microphone and speaker - which is then used to both stimulate the hair cells and listen for a response. If no response is detected, hearing loss may be diagnosed.

As a result of the different hearing tests discussed above, you can be confident that your audiologist will be able to diagnose and treat any hearing loss you experience with all the benefits of modern technology.