There are several tests that determine whether a person has hearing loss. These tests also determine the configuration (i.e. unilateral or bilateral, low-frequency or high-frequency) and degree of hearing loss (i.e. mild, moderate, profound, severe).
The most basic test is performed using an audiometer, which is used to determine the level of hearing a person has across frequencies.
If you suspect that you have hearing loss, it is best that you consult an audiologist so that you can undergo a proper hearing evaluation. Before administering the hearing test, your audiologist will first go through your hearing and medical history. Your audiologist will also have to check your ears for anything that may affect the results of the hearing test.
What to Expect During a Hearing Test
The method by which a hearing test is conducted depends on the age of the person. Adults normally go through a regular pure-tone hearing test setup where they wear headphones attached to an audiometer inside a soundproof booth. Headphones or earphones are necessary to be able to test each ear.
Sounds will be played at selected frequencies and you will be asked to respond in a certain way if you hear the sound. For instance, you may be asked to raise a finger, press a button, or respond by saying a word whenever you hear a sound. The results are presented through an audiogram; a graph that shows the type, configuration, and degree of hearing loss in cases where hearing loss is detected.
Younger kids, however, might refuse to wear headphones during a hearing test. In which case, the sounds will have to be played using speakers inside a soundproof booth. The challenge that this setup poses is that it is difficult to record the results for each ear so unilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in one ear) might not be detected.
When conducting tests for kids as young as 2 to 5 years old, the audiologist typically uses play audiometry where the child being tested is asked to perform a series of activities when he hears a sound. Activities typically include using blocks, pegs, and rings to obtain a response from the child.
Other Types of Hearing Tests
Middle Ear Testing
In some cases, additional tests may be necessary to determine if the middle ear is functioning properly or if the problem lies in the middle ear. Tympanometry is a type of middle ear test where a small probe is placed inside the ear to push air pressure into the ear canal so the audiologist can see how the middle ear is functioning. Through this test, an audiologist can determine whether there are problems with how the eardrum moves or if there is a hole in the eardrum.
To determine the type of hearing loss, audiologists use acoustic reflex measures where a person’s acoustic reflex to loud sounds is observed. The type of hearing loss is determined by checking if an acoustic reflex occurs when a loud sound is played and how loud the sound has to be before the acoustic reflex occurs.
Auditory Brainstem Response Test
ABR tests the inner ear and the brain for possible causes of hearing problems in children and adults who cannot respond properly to regular hearing evaluations. It is also used in newborn hearing screening. Electrodes are placed on the head to record brain wave activity related to sounds.
Otoacoustic Emissions Test
This test is often used as a part of the newborn hearing screening, as it is able to determine whether there is blockage in the ear canal, damage to hair cells, or fluid in the middle ear. Everyone releases otoacoustic emissions (sounds produced by the inner ear as a response to external sounds). During an OAE test, the sound produced by the inner ear is recorded through the use of a small probe. People with hearing loss typically don’t produce these sounds.
During a basic hearing evaluation, people only undergo pure-tone hearing tests unless the audiologist recommends further testing to determine the degree and type of hearing loss.