A comprehensive audiological evaluation gives great insight to your hearing abilities.
Hearing loss usually occurs gradually, so you may not notice it right away. However, if you’ve been turning up the volume on the TV, looking at people’s lips instead of their eyes when they speak, or displaying other signs of hearing loss, you should visit an audiologist for testing.
An audiologist usually begins by performing a comprehensive audiological evaluation, which includes several different tests that focus on different aspects of your hearing.
A tympanogram tests eardrum mobility. First, the audiologist will examine the outer ear with an otoscope to make sure the ear canal is clear. Then, they will place a small probe into your ear. The device will change your ear’s air pressure from negative to positive to move the ear drum around. You may hear loud noises or feel some discomfort as the audiologist uses the device to take measurements of your ear drum’s movement, but the test is perfectly safe.
The test only takes about two minutes, and it reveals whether or not the eardrum is functioning properly. If the measurements are abnormal, there may be fluid behind the eardrum or a hole in the eardrum.
The tone test is the most common hearing test performed on children in schools and in general practitioner’s offices. You’ll wear headphones and be instructed to press a button or raise your hand whenever you hear a beep. The beeps will span a wide range of pitches. Some may be much softer than others.
A tone test performed during a comprehensive audiological exam is slightly different than the one done in schools. Both exams determine how well you hear when sound travels through your ear canal and eardrum and to the tiny bones in the middle ear. The tone test done by an audiologist also examines the functioning of your auditory nerve.
If you have trouble hearing the beeps during the tone test, it indicates some degree of hearing loss. This can be a result of an infection or a medication side effect, or it can occur after being exposed to loud noises. Some people have a family history of hearing loss and are genetically more susceptible to ear damage than others.
A speech test will assess your ability to understand words. A speech reception test determines the lowest volume at which you can hear speech, so the audiologist will present words at varying volumes and ask you to repeat them. A speech discrimination test determines if you can understand speech at a comfortable volume. The audiologist will present words at a normal speaking volume, and you’ll repeat them to the best of your ability. The audiologist will tally up the percentage that you repeat correctly.
If you have trouble hearing in loud places, the audiologist may perform the test in a louder environment. This will give them a better idea of your hearing abilities in normal, everyday situations. If you have trouble hearing during the tone test or the speech test, you and the audiologist will discuss treatment options, which may include a hearing aid, assistive listening device, or cochlear implant.