Expert advice: What to expect during a hearing test

Feb 26, 2020
Having a simple hearing test could improve your life. Source: Getty.

Did you know that 48 per cent of people with hearing loss have never had a hearing test?

A further 18 per cent have had their ears tested only once in the last five years, meaning that only 34 per cent of those with hearing loss have taken the necessary steps to addressing it.

While a decline in the senses is to be expected with age, hearing is often the neglected focus, only being addressed when it’s problematically damaged or declining. However, research shows that healthy hearing is important for a variety of reasons.

Health-wise, hearing loss can cause unnecessary mental fatigue as the brain has to work harder to make up for the lack of audio stimuli. This mental effort has shown to be a contributing factor to cognitive problems and even dementia.

Socially, hearing loss is a major factor for many older people to become alienated from their social groups or situations as they’re not able to participate or keep up as much as they used to. The resulting isolation and loneliness can lead many to become depressed.

To take away some of the anxiety that goes into any medical exam, including a hearing test, we’ll break down the stages below. It’s not complicated and can be a real benefit for those affected.

What happens during a hearing test?

The above flowchart clearly illustrates the stages of a hearing test. It starts with finding a nearby clinic and making an appointment with one of the audiologists for a screening. The appointment starts with a discussion about the nature of your hearing problems, giving the doctor a better idea of what exactly your issue is.

Some of the common tests an audiologist will conduct:

  • Otoscopy: The most common type of hearing test, the doctor will use a focused flashlight to look inside your ear canal to check for any blockages or irregularities
  • Air conduction audiometry: To get a better sense of which of your hearing frequencies are affected, the doctor places you in a soundproof booth with headphones on and a button in hand. Sounds of varying volume and frequency are played through the headphones, one ear at a time, that you respond to by pressing the button if you can hear them. Your responses are mapped out against the frequencies to highlight any deficient areas. A similar test is a bone conduction audiometry; the only difference is that you are asked to wear a headband with a pad on your mastoid bone behind your ear. This tests hearing levels through bone conduction rather than normal hearing, indicating if your hearing loss is conductive, mixed or sensorineural loss
  • Tympanometry: The doctor inserts a plastic instrument into the ear canal to measure the canal’s volume and the eardrum’s response
  • Speech testing: Also conducted in a soundproof booth, you’ll be asked to repeat words of varying volume played to one ear at a time. This measures your speech auditory level for each ear. This test can also be done with white noise or background noise to determine your speech-processing ability.

These four tests make up a basic hearing test. To assess suitability for hearing aids, the doctor will conduct an audiogram that combines the air, bone and speech tests. If you’ve had a hearing exam previously, bring those results with you to your next test (if you have them) as a reference.

If you suspect that you’re suffering from a form of hearing loss or have a persistent noise or sensation in one or both of your ears, it’s a good idea to find an audiologist and book a hearing test. That way you can get treatment you need and avoid any further complications down the line.

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