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Better hearing begins with a hearing test

The signs of hearing loss are usually subtle and develop over time. If you or the people around you feel that you have a difficuly in hearing, a hearing test is absolutely necessary. To find out if you have a hearing loss, only a licensed hearing care professional – audiologist or hearing aid specialist – should evaluate your hearing. This requires an appointment with a local hearing care professional, who will use the proper techniques and equipment to provide you with accurate results. Based on your results, your hearing test will yield all the relevant data that will help the specialist recommend the right treatment for you. In the case of tinnitus, a hearing test would also be the first step an ear doctor would take to evaluate your tinnitus.

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General information about hearing tests (audiometry)

Before an audiologist can perform a hearing test, an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist) should examine your ear canals for any sort of obstruction such as earwax (cerumen). If you arrive to the specialist's office for a hearing evaluation with your ears clogged, you may be asked to see an ENT to have the obstruction removed. This will ensure accurate test results and a proper diagnosis. Therefore, it is important that you prepare for your hearing test by first consulting an ENT. Once your ear canals are ready for examination, your hearing care professional will perform either a subjective hearing test, an objective hearing test, or combination of the two. All of these tests fall under the umbrella of audiometry exams, which are useful in diagnosing conductive, sensorineural, or mixed hearing loss. Most of the tests will require you to sit in a quiet, soundproof room, with headphones or earphones placed over or in your ears. The headphones/earphones are connected to an audiometer, allowing the specialist to transmit sounds to your ears and record your responses on an audiogram.

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Subjective hearing test

A subjective hearing test requires your cooperation whereas the objective hearing test does not. During a subjective hearing test, the specialist will play certain noises, sounds, or words and ask you to make a gesture in response to these sounds. This will allow the specialist to assess the severity of your hearing loss and recommend an appropriate treatment. Subjective hearing tests include pure-tone audiometry, speech audiometry, and reflex audiometry.

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Objective hearing test

An objective hearing test is useful in identifying damage to the inner ear and assessing your quality of hearing. Objective hearing tests do not require your cooperation and are typically performed on newborns and infants. Objective hearing tests include otoacoustic emission (OAE), acoustic brainstem response (ABR), acoustic reflex test, and tympanometry

Audiogram

The results of your hearing tests are typically recorded on an audiogram. Therefore, it is important you understand how to read your audiogram. The purpose of the audiogram is to visually demonstrate the sounds you can hear normally and the sounds you are missing. The top of the chart indicates normal hearing; the further down the chart you go, the more challenging it may be for you to hear and understand certain sounds. For example, consonant sounds – t, s, f, th, k, sh, ch – are higher pitched and spoken more softly than vowels. If you are having trouble hearing these sounds, your test results will yield this information on the chart. Missing sounds in the higher ranges means, you can “hear” them but can't really understand them. Some specialists will use the left side of the chart to indicate the percentage of your hearing loss.

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