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Hearing tests explained

Hearing tests explained

If you are worried about your hearing, or the hearing of someone you know, it is important to speak to an Audiologist.

You can get an idea of whether your hearing is deteriorating by taking an online hearing test or a telephone hearing check, such as those offered by Action on Hearing Loss or Cubex, an independent provider of specialist audiology services. 

If you are not reassured by your online hearing test, it is important to make an appointment to see an Audiologist as soon as you can. One good tip before you do that though is to see your GP so that they can check your ears for wax. A heavy build up of tough ear wax can be part of the problem and, in any case, will make your hearing tests results unreliable.

Seeing your Audiologist – what to expect

An Audiologist is a health professional who specialises in assessing, diagnosing, treating and managing hearing loss and hearing problems.  

Infants and children are generally seen by a specialist Paediatric Audiologist.

Your first meeting

The first thing your audiologist will do in your initial appointment is to take a full case history from you. This involves asking a lot of questions to give him or her a full picture of your general health, medical background and your hearing. It is important for an audiologist to understand how and when your hearing problems began and the impact they are having on your life.

You will then have a series of tests to assess the full extent of your hearing loss.

Your hearing tests

  • An ear examination will be carried out to look for any physical problems with the external parts of your ear. Your audiologist will perform an otoscopy using an otoscope, which consists of a magnifying lens and a bright LED light. He or she will hold this close to your ear to look carefully at your ear, ear canal and ear drum.
  • Pure tone audiometry will also feature in your consultation. This test measures your hearing very accurately. You will need to wear a set of headphones to measure the sounds you can hear through air conduction. You will then sit and relax while the audiologist plays a series of sounds through them. These will be a variety of frequencies, with high pitched and low pitched sounds and at a range of volumes from very quiet to loud. None will be so loud they will cause you discomfort. The sounds are played into one ear at once and you need to press a button to register that you have heard a sound, every time that you do so.
  • Bone conduction audiometry can also be used to test your inner ear by measuring the amount of sound that you can sense through bone conduction. This test is done slightly differently. The device that makes the sound vibrations is placed on a headband, which holds it next to the bone just behind your ear (the mastoid bone). The sound vibrations travel directly from the oscillator into your bone and from there straight to the structures in the inner ear. The same variety of sounds will be played (high and low, quiet and loud) and you again press a button every time you hear something.

Your test results

An audiogram will be produced. This is a graph that shows how well you can hear different frequencies of sound (high to low) and different intensities of sound (quiet to loud) and reveals to the audiologist the extent and range of your hearing loss. The audiogram will also compare the results obtained from the air conduction audiometry and bone conduction audiometry. This allows the audiologist to determine which part of your ear is the source of your hearing problem.

Additional specialist hearing tests

These tests are not offered routinely but they may be available at a specialist centre or if you consult an independent audiology service.

  • Middle ear tests like tympanometry and acoustic reflex test involves placing the soft tip of a pressure sensing device into your ear canal. It does not hurt and all you feel is a sound and then you may sense a change in pressure in your ear. The results help the audiologist assess whether you have any problems with your ear drum or middle ear and will help them understand just how severe your hearing loss is. The tests may also identify a likely cause for your problem, such as a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, a mass of hardened ear wax or a disconnection between the tiny bones within the middle ear.
  • Speech tests can be done to help the audiologist investigate how you hear and process the sounds made when someone speaks.

If you need treatment…

Once the nature of your hearing problem is known, your audiologist will advise you on the best way to manage your hearing loss. Hearing conservation is important and you will be given advice on lifestyle and encouraged to have regular hearing tests to monitor your hearing.

You may also benefit from having a hearing aid and your audiologist will devise a management plan and make an appointment for you at the hearing rehabilitation clinic.

The audiologist can treat and manage many hearing problems but sometimes, additional treatments are needed. In this case, he or she will refer you to your GP or on to an ear, nose and throat consultant specialist.

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