For this reason, you should place regular hearing tests higher on your list of healthcare priorities.
A diagnostic hearing assessment is crucial in determining your degree of hearing loss and serves as a gateway to identify the most appropriate treatment for your unique condition.
After your comprehensive hearing assessment, your audiologist will work with you to explore various treatment options and design comprehensive hearing care to address your unique needs.
What You Can Expect During Your Hearing Assessment
Not knowing what to expect is one reason you might be avoiding a hearing test. However, hearing tests are non-intrusive, quick, and easy, requiring about a half an hour to complete. There are four parts to your hearing assessment.
1. Initial Consultation
The first part of your hearing assessment involves an initial consultation. This is essentially a conversation about your family history, medications you take, your occupation, hobbies and common activities you enjoy, and concerns related to your hearing issues.
The purpose of this conversation is to allow you to inform your audiologist of various environmental, genetic, medical, and lifestyle activities as potential causes of hearing loss. This information, along with testing, are factors considered in your treatment options.
It is often helpful to bring along someone who is very well acquainted with your condition to help fill in information you might leave out.
2. Physical Examination of Your Ears
After our conversation, your audiologist will begin with a physical examination with an otoscope, which is essentially a magnifying glass with a tapered tip and a tiny light. With the otoscope, your audiologist will be able to identify growths or tumors in the ear canal as well as wax, bugs, and other obstructions that might be reducing your capacity to conduct sound to the middle and inner ear.
Once your audiologist has examined your ears, you will be placed into a soundproof booth or room and fitted with a set of headphones to undergo a series of tests, which might include any or all of the following:
- Pure-tone test
- Bone conduction test
- Speech recognition test
- Acoustic-reflex test
- In some cases, your audiologist might consider additional tests in order to further identify or isolate the cause of an impairment or hearing loss.
4. Discussion of Results
Once you have finished the series of tests, your audiologist will bring you back to the office to discuss the results of your hearing assessment. During this time, you will learn the extent of your hearing loss as well as the various options available for treating your condition.
Your input during this discussion is an essential part of creating a plan for comprehensive hearing care best suited to meet your hearing needs as well as your personal preferences and lifestyle concerns.
Although hearing aids are among the treatment options, medications, minor outpatient procedures, tinnitus management, changes to your prescription medications, or a referral to another specialist are also among the possible solutions to a hearing loss issue. If no permanent hearing loss was identified during testing, your audiologist might recommend hearing protection or prescribe preventative measures to prevent future damage.
Types of Tests and How They Help to Identify Your Hearing Loss
There are various types of tests used in a comprehensive hearing assessment. The design of each one is to identify a specific element of your hearing loss so that your audiologist can provide treatment options that target your specific condition.
Pure-tone testing, often called air conduction testing or simply a “hearing test,” transmits sounds through your outer and middle ear. Its purpose is to determine the quietest sound you can hear at different pitches, or frequencies. Earphones allow your audiologist to test one ear at a time, identifying the specific hearing threshold for each ear.
Bone Conduction Testing
When pure-tone testing reveals hearing loss, your audiologist will fit you with a different type of headset, known as a bone vibrator. This headset transmits sounds directly to the inner ear, bypassing the outer and middle ear. Its purpose is to determine your specific type of hearing loss. When sounds are heard better using bone conduction, your hearing loss is conductive in nature and is located in the outer or middle ear. Sounds heard at equal levels using both pure-tone and bone conduction tests indicate a sensorineural loss.
In addition to tests that use tones, your audiologist will perform tests that evaluate your ability to discriminate between spoken tones and various words. During this test, you will be asked to repeat the words you hear in various environmental conditions and background noises from silent to extremely loud. These tests further clarify your hearing thresholds in real-world application.
Acoustic-Reflex or Tympanometry Testing
Acoustic-reflex testing helps your audiologist to evaluate the status of the eardrum (tympanic membrane) as well as other middle ear structures. Tympanometry testing measures the movement of the eardrum as it responds to a transmitted sound along with its movement when pressure changes are applied. Its purpose is to isolate problems with your eardrum or middle ear structures.
Real Ear Measurement
Real ear measurement is the measurement of sound pressure levels in a patient’s ear canal that develops when a hearing aid is worn. We measure this using a silicone probe tube which is inserted into the ear canal and connected to a microphone outside of the ear.
This verifies that the hearing aid is providing suitable amplification on an individual basis.
In some unique circumstances, your audiologist may consider additional tests to better identify the cause of your hearing loss. One of those additional tests is an otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test. Its purpose is to assess the function of the cochlea. When your hearing is normal or near normal, OAEs are present, but they are absent if there is a problem with the cochlea. Auditory brainstem response (ABR) is another test used to measure hearing sensitivity and evaluate the efficiency of the neural pathways to transmit sound within the brainstem. Its purpose is to help rule out auditory-neurological problems.