Types of Hearing Tests
Once you have taken the steps to figure out where to get a hearing test, it will be helpful to understand what each hearing test does.
There are seven different types of hearing tests. These hearing evaluations are painless and noninvasive ways to establish the underlying cause and degree of your hearing loss. However, not every test works for every person; which tests you will be given are based on your particular hearing loss symptoms. In this article, we list and describe each of the seven hearing tests.
If you have ever had your hearing tested at school, you might remember putting on special headphones and raising your hand whenever you heard a sound. This form of hearing evaluation is called pure tone testing, also known as air conduction testing. This test uses air conduction to measure your ability to hear tones at different pitches and frequencies. Once you can no longer hear any sound, the medical professional assisting you will be able to determine the particular frequency that hearing loss becomes inaudible for you.
Hearing care professionals use this type of test when something such as wax or fluid is blocking your outer or middle ear. Bone conduction testing measures your inner ear’s response to sound. A small device will be placed on your forehead or behind your ear. This device will then send tiny vibrations through the bone directly to the inner ear. The results of bone conduction testing are not only used to determine the degree of your hearing loss but also to see if there is an issue with your outer or middle ear.
Speech testing measures your ability to separate speech from background noise by examining the speech reception threshold (SRT) of each ear. Essentially, speech testing checks how well you are able to listen to and repeat words. Thus, this test is only for older children and those able to talk. You will be given headphones that a hearing care professional will speak to you through and your job is to repeat each word you hear. The results will show your ability of word recognition.
Tympanometry evaluates the function and movement of the eardrum and middle ear. It does this by measuring the movement of the middle eardrum in response to variations of air pressure in the ear canal. It is important to stay still as a tympanometer is placed in your ear to change the air pressure in your ear canal as you hear low-pitched tones. As the air pressure changes, measurements of the eardrums movement is recorded. Individuals who are hoping to get hearing aids are typically given this test to receive medical clearance.
Acoustic reflex testing is yet another way to examine the middle ear. Although, this test is used specifically to measure involuntary muscle contractions of the ear. There is a small muscle in your middle ear that will tighten amongst hearing loud sounds. This is an involuntary reaction and happens without you knowing it. The louder the sound has to be before this reflex happens, the worse your hearing is. Some people may not even have any reflex at all if their hearing loss is severe enough. Thus, a hearing care professional will test how loud the sound needs to be before your reflex is triggered. This is done by using a device to record your reflex based off of the sounds coming out of a probe placed in your ear.
Auditory brainstem response, also known as auditory evoked potential (AEP), is used to test how the inner ear and brain pathways are working in terms of hearing. A hearing care professional will place sensors (electrodes) near the ears and forehead as well as small headphones in your ears. Clicking sounds go through the headphones and the sensors measure how the inner ear and brain respond to each sound. This hearing test is commonly used for newborns and children, as it is made for those who cannot complete a typical hearing screening.
Otoacoustic emissions are echos given off by the inner ear when responding to a sound. Like ABR, this test is mostly used for infants and children who may not respond well to behavioral hearing tests. Foam or rubber tips will be placed in your ear and play quiet sounds. A computer will then record the otoacoustic emissions (the quiet echos) from your ear.
There are many ways to identify hearing loss and each test is used for various reasons. Everyone hears differently so the tests that are ordered for you will be the best for your specific situation. After taking the tests, your doctor will go over the results with you and make a plan that works for your hearing circumstances.
If you find yourself in need of a hearing aid after taking your hearing tests, check out our great quality and affordable hearing aids at Audien Hearing.
Drew Sutton M.D.
Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.