The Different Types of Hearing Tests

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A visit to the audiologist for a hearing test is the very first step to better hearing health. And although testing is becoming more commonplace, it is still not a widespread practice within the general community.

With hearing loss now affecting up to 1 in 6 Australians, however, hearing health is quickly becoming a priority. It is important to be equipped with the necessary knowledge to enable an appropriate response to hearing problems.

Hearing tests are the first step and are very much like eye tests in that they help to determine the level of hearing loss present and provide information for further evaluation and treatment. But with hearing problems posing such a broad range of potential problems, it may seem that audiologists have an overwhelming amount of tests to perform. You can be rest assured though that each of these tests have a specific function and are very important tools in gauging overall hearing health.

Pure Tone Testing

The most common individual type of hearing test. Pure tone testing is a form of audiometry, where sounds are presented to your ears to determine your hearing levels. The test is performed by sounds being presented at different frequencies and volumes, with the faintest sounds you can hear being recorded.

Two main methods to administer the test are often used in conjunction with each other to give a more holistic view of the causes of hearing loss. The main method is to present sound through earphones, a method which tests the 'air conduction,' or more generally – the transmission of sound through the outer and middle ear. Alternatively, the test can be done by placing oscillators behind your ears, called 'bone conduction,' and transmitting sound straight to the inner ear. A difference in results from these two methods can help determine the location of your hearing loss.

Speech Testing

A common misconception about hearing loss is that sounds only decrease in volume for those experiencing it, a problem that the previous test assesses. However, there are other types of hearing loss and the more common issue, although less widely associated with hearing loss, is a decrease in the quality and clarity of sound perceived. Because of this, conversations are often difficult to keep up with for those with this type of hearing loss, especially in loud environments.

Speech testing is designed to determine the extent to which the clarity of an individual's perception of sound is affected. Performed in both quiet and noisy environments, the ability to listen and correctly repeat words back to the audiologist is measured and recorded.

Tests of the Middle Ear

Hearing loss can also occur from damage to the middle ear and is commonly seen in this form for infants and younger children. Obstructions to the middle ear can occur as a result of blockage caused by wax and other fluids as well as perforation of the ear drum.

There are multiple tests that can be used to determine the type of damage present, including tympanometry which pushes air pressure into the ear canal and static acoustic impedance which measures the volume of air in the canal. These air pressures can be picked up and benchmarked against normal levels of air to determine any abnormalities in the middle ear.

Inner Ear Tests

After testing the outer and middle ears for potential hearing damage, all that is left is the inner ear. The hearing system is a complex mechanism, especially at this stage where sound waves are transformed and transmitted to the brain. And being such a complex system, the potential for even small disturbances to cause a disruption is high.

Auditory brainstem response tests are often used to test the relationship between the inner ear and brain. By passing electrodes on the head, brain activity in response to sound can be measured. As a test that requires no response or any conscious reaction, it is suitable for use with newborns, for whom it is important to determine hearing health early on.

With hearing problems quickly becoming a more prevalent issue, it is important to have an understanding of the general hearing health landscape And while hearing tests are becoming more commonplace, spreading further knowledge and awareness will help to enable those requiring help to seek the appropriate responses.

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