Hearing Tests

How well do you hear?

A hearing (audiometric) test is part of an ear exam that tests how well a person is able to hear. It is done by measuring how well sound can reach the brain.

The sounds we hear start as vibrations in the air around us. The vibrations make sound waves, which vibrate at a certain speed (frequency) and have a certain height (amplitude). The vibration speed of a sound wave determines how high or low a sound is (pitch). The height of the sound wave determines how loud the sound is (volume).

Hearing happens when these sound waves travel through the ear and are turned into nerve impulses. These nerve impulses are sent to the brain, which “hears” them.

Hearing tests help find what kind of hearing loss you may have. The tests measure how well you can hear sounds that reach the inner ear through the ear canal. They also measure sounds that are spread through the skull.

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Types of Tests Used to Evaluate Hearing in Children and Adults

A variety of tests can be used to identify and diagnose a hearing loss. The method used depends in part on the age of the individual and other factors. Testing may include …

Pure-Tone Testing. A pure-tone air conduction hearing test determines the faintest tones a person can hear at selected pitches (frequencies), from low to high. During this test, earphones are worn so that information can be obtained for each ear.

Speech Testing. This is used with older children and adults, and helps to confirm the pure-tone test results.

Tests of the Middle Ear. The audiologist may also take measurements that will provide information about how the middle ear is functioning.

Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR). The auditory brainstem response (ABR) test gives information about the inner ear (cochlea) and brain pathways for hearing.

Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs). People with normal hearing produce emissions. Those with hearing loss greater than 25–30 decibels (dB) do not produce these very soft sounds. The OAE test is often part of a newborn hearing screening program.

Before your testing, tell your doctor if anything on this list applies to you:

  • You have recently been exposed to any painfully loud noise or to a noise that made your ears ring. Avoid loud noises for 16 hours before you have a thorough hearing test.
  • You take or have taken antibiotics that can damage hearing, such as gentamicin.
  • You have had any problems hearing normal conversations or have noticed any other signs of possible hearing loss.
  • You have recently had a cold or an ear infection.