What to Expect During a Hearing Test

Hearing is more than just being able to hear sounds. It’s also about understanding speech and how it relates to your ability to communicate. It is one of the most important senses we possess. Yet, despite how crucial it is, many people neglect their hearing until they experience significant hearing loss, which by that stage may have already lead to some of the more serious consequences of hearing loss, such as social isolation and depression.

It’s vital that you monitor your hearing throughout your life to ensure any reduction in hearing thresholds is caught early. A brief screening test is a quick and easy way to check for any potential issues with your hearing. This blog post will look at different types of hearing tests available in Australia, their purposes, and what to expect from each type.

what is a hearing test

A hearing test is a battery of different assessments that are used to assess your auditory health and hearing threshold.

Hearing tests are usually conducted by hearing service providers but are also commonly conducted in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and medical clinics. In Australia, they are also regularly conducted in pre-schools and kindergartens as healthy hearing is crucial for the learning process. The average duration of a hearing test can range from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the nature and number of assessments being conducted.

As previously mentioned, the hearing test consists of a number of different assessments used to effectively assess the function of the entire auditory system, from your outer ear (Pinna, Ear Canal), to your middle ear system (Tympanic membrane, Ossicles), to your inner ear system (cochlea, auditory nerve). The findings from the battery of assessments are used to determine the health of the auditory system and determine possible causes/conditions that may be affecting the patient’s ability to hear.

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What to expect during a Hearing Test

Medical History

The first part of the hearing evaluation will typically start with a brief discussion to determine what if any concerns the patient may have in regards to their hearing ability and/or auditory system. Often, further questions will be asked by the hearing care professional to gather any other relevant information that may assist with the assessment or help determine the causes of potential conditions.

Otoscopic Examination

An otoscope examination is a visual inspection of the outer ear and tympanic membrane conducted by a hearing care professional, typically with the use of a device called an otoscope. It is used to determine the health of the outer ear and middle ear and identify any visible concerns such as a perforated eardrum or excessive wax. This part of the assessment generally only takes 1-2 minutes.

Pure tone audiometry

Pure-tone audiometry is used to determine the type of hearing loss you have, including whether it is temporary (conductive hearing loss), permanent (sensorineural hearing loss), or a mixed hearing loss (combination of both). 

The test is conducted in a sound proof booth and a set of headphones or insert earphones will be used to transmit the pure tone sound waves into your ears. You will be given the test instructions by your hearing care professional and then a number of tones at varying pitches will be presented to gauge your hearing level and determine your minimum hearing thresholds. 

Pure tone audiometry typically consists of two parts, known as air-conduction and bone-conduction, and can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

Speech audiometry

Speech audiometry is the method of testing used to determine your brain’s ability to understand words at different presentation levels. Speech discrimination tests can be used for a number of reasons, such as: determining the accuracy of the audiogram, testing the speech discrimination of the individual, and assisting in the identification of possible conditions such as acoustic neuromas. This part of the assessment takes approximately 5-10 minutes.

Tympanometry

Tympanometry assessment is used to objectively determine the function of the middle ear system. It measures ear canal volume, compliance of the middle ear (tympanic membrane & ossicles) and also measures the pressure in the middle ear.

It is effective in identifying conditions in the middle ear that may not be visible when conducting the otoscopy examination, such as fluid behind the eardrum, damage caused to ossicles, middle ear infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction, and otosclerosis.

Tympanometry is a non-invasive procedure. A piece of medical equipment called a tympanometer is used in the procedure and it works by changing the pressure within the ear canal in conjunction with sound to take objective measurements of the middle ear. The test typically only takes around 2-3 minutes.

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Understanding Your Hearing Test Results

understanding your hearing test results

Audiograms are the graphs used to show the softest sounds you can hear at the various pitches (frequencies). An audiogram’s vertical axis represents the loudness or volume of sound and the horizontal axis represents the frequency or tone of the sound measured.

The results of the pure tone test are plotted onto the audiogram and are primarily designed to gauge the softest sound the individual can hear, measured in decibels (dBHL) at each of the test frequencies measured in Hertz (Hz). Each ear is plotted separately as each ear will have different minimum thresholds.

Historically, hearing care professionals used percentage of hearing loss descriptions to describe hearing loss, but this is not an accurate way to describe hearing loss. Hearing loss will commonly affect different frequencies at different levels, so the percentage of hearing loss at one frequency will differ from the next.

Today, we typically describe hearing loss in either one or a combination of five different categories; normal, mild, moderate, severe, and profound.

The severity of the hearing loss is measured in decibels (dB) and is classified as follows:

The Importance of Regular Hearing Tests

Children

The ability to hear is crucial to our ability to communicate and learn. Therefore, the importance of good hearing during the developmental process is of the utmost importance for children. After birth, newborn hearing screening may be conductive if there is a history of congenital hearing loss in the family or the child is showing possible signs of hearing loss being present. 

As newborn babies are unable to physically respond to sound at that stage, specially designed medical equipment is used to determine whether there are neurological responses to sound being received to determine if there is any severe hearing loss occurring.

As children are often easily distracted and have short attention spans, there is a risk that hearing issues can go undetected for months or even years throughout their childhood, and regular hearing checks, even from an early age, should be conducted to ensure the auditory health of your child. Early detection of hearing loss in children is critical since it can severely impact your child’s communication skills, language development, social skills, and education.

Hearing tests for children are now conducted regularly in pre-schools and kindergartens across Australia to ensure any hearing difficulties are identified early in order to give the child access to support and services to ensure they can develop normally.

Adults

Throughout our lives, we will be exposed to a range of different conditions that have the ability to impact our hearing. From exposure to loud noises, ototoxic chemicals and medications, and medical conditions or viral infections that have the ability to cause hearing loss.

Typically, hearing loss is a gradual process and may decline slightly over a long period of time. As a result, it is not always easy for people to realise they have a hearing loss until it has progressed to the point where they are having significant difficulty hearing.Often, the signs have been present for a number of years and people will start to withdraw, often unknowingly, from social situations as they are unable to effectively communicate. This can often lead to social isolation and conditions such as depression. More recently, studies have been conducted into the other related impacts of untreated hearing loss, including the part it plays in increasing the risk of cognitive conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. According to recent research, even mild hearing loss that goes untreated can double your risk of dementia, while severe hearing loss increases your risk fivefold.

The importance of regular hearing tests is crucial at any age and annual hearing tests or screens are recommended to ensure your hearing is accurately monitored. The introduction of online hearing tests has increased access for people to conduct screening tests in the comfort of their own home. Although the results shouldn’t be taken as medically accurate, if they indicate any sign of loss, it should prompt you to have further testing conducted by a hearing care professional.

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The Importance Of Regular Hearing Tests

Identify medical conditions: Some types of hearing loss may be due to an underlying medical condition. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two illnesses that can induce hearing issues, while hypertension has been linked to hearing loss and tinnitus.

Determine early signs of hearing loss: A hearing examination is a form of preventative care for your auditory health. You have your eyes examined once a year; to track changes in your vision, so why do you neglect your hearing? A hearing care professional will assess your auditory health at each appointment and can compare each audiogram against the last to monitor any signs of deterioration.

To avoid further damage, your hearing health may be compromised due to treatable conditions that, if left untreated, can cause permanent damage. It has also been determined that hearing loss increases the risk of falling and injury in the elderly since those people are less likely to hear danger signals, such as car horns and smoke alarms.

Treat the hearing problem: The earlier a hearing loss is detected and treated, the better the outcome for the individual will be. Although it is our ears that transmit sound into our auditory system, it is our brain that deciphers the sounds we hear. If hearing loss persists for long periods of time, our brain’s capacity to process sound becomes affected, decreasing the ability to hear speech clearly, especially when other competing noises are present. There are a large range of options available to assist with hearing loss rehabilitation, which your hearing care professional will discuss with you.

Signs You Need a Hearing Test

signs you need a hearing test

Knowing the signs is important in determining whether you or someone you know is struggling with their hearing. Below we have outlined some of the more common signs to look out for:

The television or radio is turned up loudly.

A common first sign that someone has a hearing loss is to monitor whether they are turning their devices up, such as the TV, radio, and phone. If the volume of the device is much louder than other people find comfortable, then it can be a sign that the person has some hearing loss.

Difficulty understanding speech

A tell-tale sign that someone has a hearing loss is if they are regularly asking for repeats. Often, speech will sound unclear to people with hearing loss and they will miss parts of sentences, causing them to ask for them to be repeated in order to confirm the question.

Turning your neck and body to hear

Hearing loss will commonly affect both ears equally, but there are many instances where it may only affect one ear. If someone is continually favouring one ear over the other in order to hear, or turning their head to the better ear to hear, then it may indicate the individual has a unilateral hearing loss.

You feel drained after a conversation.

When someone has an untreated hearing loss, it can become mentally exhausting for the individual. In order to hear, our brain processes sound, and when the input signal is compromised due to a hearing loss, the brain has to work overtime to try and understand conversation effectively. The extra use of resources the brain requires to function will in turn cause mental fatigue, which overtime, can be detrimental to the overall function of the brain.

Ringing in the ears

Tinnitus, is a phantom sound (ringing, buzzing, humming, clicking sounds) that many people with hearing loss often hear. This symptom is common in people who have had significant noise exposure or have significant high frequency hearing loss damage.

Final Thoughts

An annual hearing evaluation is important to ensure you are effectively monitoring the health of your auditory system. If you have any questions in regards to the information discussed in today’s blog post, then feel free to speak with one of our hearing care professionals who will be happy to assist you.

Whether you are looking for a FREE hearing screen, comprehensive hearing assessment, customized hearing aid, assistive listening device, hearing tests, or specialist advice then see the team at Independent Hearing.

To book a consultation with one of our hearing specialists, you can contact our office on 08 8331 1500. We offer a range of FREE consultation appointments to assist you with your needs.

Luke Argent
Luke is a Co-founder/Director and Senior Audiometrist at Independent Hearing and graduated with a Diploma of Audiometry in 2018. He holds a Qualified Practitioner (QP) number with the Federal Government’s Hearing Services Program. Luke has been involved with the hearing industry since 2015 when he co-founded the business ‘Eyre Hearing’. Due to an expansion of the business in 2020 it was rebranded to its current name ‘Independent Hearing’.

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