Hearing tests are designed to measure an individual’s hearing sensitivity over different frequencies. They help to determine whether hearing loss exists, and allow an audiologist to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
A variety of factors can cause hearing loss, from natural aging to excessive noise exposure and medical or hereditary conditions. You may think of hearing loss as something that only affects the elderly, but in reality more than half of all patients are under the age of 65. Hearing tests will help catch problems early, and are important for people of all ages. Infants and toddlers with hearing loss are at risk for developmental delays, and older adults may be unaware of diminished hearing since the problem often develops gradually. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the chances for successful treatment.
Types of Hearing Tests
There are several different tests used to measure hearing. They include:
Pure Tone Audiometry
A pure tone hearing test measures how well a patient can hear at different frequencies. The patient is given headphones to wear, and asked to respond to sounds that vary in pitch and volume, usually by raising a hand or pushing a button. The results are recorded on an audiogram chart, and help the audiologist determine the type and degree of hearing loss.
A speech test measures how well a patient hears and understands normal conversations. He or she is asked to repeat words that are spoken at different volumes. The results are plotted on an audiogram and used to determine a speech reception threshold (SRT). It is useful in corroborating pure tone hearing test results.
Auditory Brain Stem Response (ABR) Testing
An ABR test is used to detect sensorineural hearing loss. The patient is given headphones, and electrodes are placed on the scalp and earlobes. Clicking noises are sent through the headphones, and the brain’s response to these stimuli is recorded on a graph.
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) Testing
An OAE test is used to measure a patient’s response to cochlea stimulation. When the cochlea detects sound, tiny hair cells vibrate, producing faint sounds that echo in the middle ear. A probe in the ear canal can detect whether these emissions are occurring. The OAE test is typically used for newborn hearing screenings.
Hearing tests are completely safe, and usually cause no discomfort. They are crucial in measuring your ability to hear, and invaluable in guiding your audiologist toward a proper treatment solution.