What to expect during a hearing test

While it’s recommended that adults have a hearing test once a year, many people don’t get their hearing tested until they suspect they’re having hearing problems, or after taking a free online hearing test that recommends they see a hearing health professional. Scheduling regular hearing tests is important throughout adulthood, but becomes even more so once you’re over 50. 

While each hearing health clinic has its own procedures, you can generally expect the following during your hearing test.

1. Paperwork and hearing history

As with any medical appointment, you’ll fill out the necessary paperwork at the start of your hearing test, including providing your insurance information. The clinic will check your insurance plan to see if it covers hearing tests (alternatively, you may be able to find free hearing tests in your area).

You’ll be asked to provide a medical history. Be as thorough as possible. Some medical conditions you wouldn’t typically associate with your ears can still cause hearing problems. Many medications, vitamins and supplements can affect hearing and tinnitus, so list everything you’re currently taking. Be sure to include a history of ear infections, head trauma, allergies, ear surgery, or exposure to loud noises.

2. Describing your symptoms

Clinic staff will ask you to describe your hearing loss symptoms. If you have pain or ringing in the ears, let them know. Describe your hearing problems as best you can. Is your hearing muffled? Do you have problems listening to television or talking on the phone? Can you understand men but have difficulty hearing what women and children say? Do you have difficulty following conversations in noisy environments? No two people have exactly the same hearing issues, so be specific. It may help to list your hearing problems before the appointment. 

It’s also important to note that you may be asked to bring a relative or close friend with you to your appointment. Often times, hearing loss symptoms are noticed more by those closest to the sufferer rather than the sufferer themselves. 

3. Expect a physical ear exam

Before you take any hearing aid tests, a hearing care professional will exam your ears for any signs of physical problems that might affect your hearing, ranging from birth defects to excessive earwax, which could impair the results of your actual hearing test.

4. Discussion on the hearing test results

After your hearing test, your hearing care professional will go over your audiogram and make recommendations. Depending on the results, he or she may refer you back to your primary care physician or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for further treatment. If test results are inconclusive, you’ll be asked to return for reevaluation in a few months.

If no further evaluation is needed, your hearing care professional will recommend treatment, which can include hearing aids or other hearing assistive devices but can also include something as simple as having a wax buildup removed by an ear, nose, throat doctor or your primary care physician. 

Types of hearing tests

Each clinic will have its preferred hearing test, or audiometry. Depending on your hearing care professional’s advice, you may take one or more of the following tests:

1. Speech audiometry

During a speech audiometry you’ll be asked to repeat words or sentences that you listen to at different volumes. The goal is to determine the softest speech sounds you can hear and understand.

2. Pure tone audiometry

Pure tone audiometry measures your ability to hear soft sounds at different frequencies. For this test, you’ll wear headphones while you listen to sounds of different pitch and volume. Listen carefully listen to each sound and report every sound you hear even if you can barely hear it. 

3. Tympanometry

Also known as a pressure test, tympanometry measures your middle ear function and its ability to transmit sound. During the test a soft plug is inserted into the ear canal which generates a measure of pressure to determine if your middle ear is working correctly or not.

What is an audiogram?

An audiogram is a graph that plots your hearing threshold levels (dB HL). These results indicate how well you heard sounds across a range of frequencies.  Hearing loss is measured in decibels, and divided into the following broad categories:

  • 0 to 25 dB HL: normal hearing range.
  • 26 to 40 dB HL: mild hearing loss.
  • 41 to 60 dB HL: moderate hearing loss.
  • 61 to 90 dB HL: severe hearing loss.
  • 91 dB HL or more: profound hearing loss.

What is a bone conduction test?

A bone conduction test may be used to test your hearing if your outer or middle ear is blocked by earwax or fluid. A small device is placed behind your ear, that transmits sound causing the surrounding bone to gently vibrate. This vibration is picked up by the inner ear and transmitted to the auditory nerve. Bone conduction tests can be used to determine what type of hearing loss you have. 

What about online hearing tests?

Some websites offer online hearing tests. These free hearing tests use your headphones or computer speakers to play sounds at different volumes and pitches and ask you which sounds you can hear.

Free online hearing tests may give you an indication you may have hearing problems, but such tests tend to be simplistic, and certainly shouldn’t be seen as diagnostic. There’s nothing wrong with trying a free hearing test online, but if an online hearing test suggests your hearing is compromised, make an appointment with a licensed hearing care professional. They can perform more involved tests, provide you with an accurate diagnosis, and direct you to treatment options. No online test, no matter how involved, can do the same.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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