If you think that you or your child are experiencing a deterioration in hearing, it is vital to get it checked out by an experienced audiologist. These are highly experienced professionals, with masters and doctorates and hands-on experience in diagnosing, treating, and helping people manage hearing loss.

But how do they diagnose and evaluate hearing in children and adults? Is there just one standard test, or are there different ones for different people? Let's take a look.

Pure-tone testing

A pure-tone audiometry test is the most used test – the gold standard, as it were – to determine whether someone's hearing is impaired.

It is one that you may remember participating in as a child. You wear a pair of earphones or earplugs, and the audiologist conducting the test plays a number of pure tones for you to listen to. When you hear a tone, you perform an action of some sort to inform the tester that you have heard the sound – press a button, raise your hand, or so on. Once you have completed the test, the results are put into a graph that shows your hearing range – the softest sounds you can hear at varying frequencies.

In some cases, the audiologist may decide to perform a bone conduction test to assess your ability to hear pure tones by inserting a small bone conductor behind your ear. Instead of transmitting audible signals, the bone conductor sends subtle vibrations to the inner ear. 

The effects of these stimuli give you another hint of your hearing threshold and are also displayed as an audiogram. This method is usually used if there is something such as wax or fluid blocking the ear.

Speech testing

Speech testing, or speech reception threshold (SRT) testing, is used with older children and adults who can talk. The results are analyzed against the pure-tone test results to help identify hearing loss. The SRT looks at how well you listen to and repeat words.

Words are said to you through headphones, and you are asked to repeat the words. The audiologist will make a note of the softest speech that you hear and repeat. You may also be asked to repeat words that you hear at louder levels, to test word recognition.

This form of testing may take place in a noisy or quiet place. Those with impaired hearing often find that they have more trouble hearing in noisy places, so testing how well you can hear in a noisy environment can be useful.

Auditory brainstem response

The auditory brainstem response test, or ABR, is used for babies, younger children, or those who cannot complete any other hearing evaluation forms. The ABR test gives audiologists information about how the inner ear – the cochlea – and the brain pathways that deal with hearing are working. 

In this test, electrodes are put onto your head and connected to a computer. They record brain wave activity in response to sounds played through headphones or earphones. You don't have to do anything else. 

Otoacoustic emissions

Otoacoustic emissions (OAE), determine how well the inner ear works by measuring the otoacoustic emissions. These are the sounds emitted out by the inner ear as it responds to the vibration. In the inner ear, there are hair cells that respond to the sound by vibrating. The vibration creates a very quiet sound that echoes back to the middle ear. 

This sound is the OAE that is being recorded. If you have normal hearing, you will emit OAEs. If your hearing loss is more than 25-30 decibels (dB), you cannot process those very soft sounds. 

This test can also show whether there is an obstruction in your outer or middle ear. If there is an obstruction, no sound is going to be able to get through to the inner ear. This means that there will be no sounds or vibrations coming back. To do an OAE test, a small earphone or probe, is placed inside your ear. The probe puts sounds into your ear and measures the sounds that come back. You do not need to do or say anything during the test.

Speak to an experienced audiologist today

If you are concerned about your hearing or your child's hearing, want more information on the different types of hearing tests, or you feel it is time for a check-up, get in touch with Audiology Associates today at (888) 701-1441