Having your hearing tested on a regular basis, even if you think you have normal hearing, is an important part of hearing loss prevention. Routine hearing tests help you find out if you’re developing hearing loss. Early identification of hearing problems allows you and your provider to develop a strategy for treatment and prevention of further hearing loss. It can also help you identify noise hazards in your life. There are a number of different diagnostic procedures and tests available to measure hearing ability.
Pure-tone audiometry is the most common hearing test. It defines the faintest tones a person can hear at selected pitches, or frequencies, from low to high. If hearing loss is present, the audiologist uses this test to determine the type and degree of hearing loss. Although pure-tone audiometry provides a great overview of a person’s ability to hear and respond to simple sounds, the ability to hear and comprehend complex sounds requires more specific testing.
Speech audiometry tests your ability to hear and understand human speech. It usually consists of two different speech tests. One test determines your speech reception threshold, or the softest level at which you begin to recognize speech. The second test assesses speech discrimination, or your ability to understand speech. In some cases, additional speech testing may be required. For example, you may be tested on your ability to understand speech in the presence of background noise.
Some tests measure the brain’s response to auditory stimulation. These tests use electrodes to analyze brain activity. The auditory brainstem response, or ABR test, assesses the functionality of the auditory neural pathway. The auditory steady state response, or ASSR test, objectively identifies the brain’s responses to different pitches and volumes.
The otoacoustic emissions test, or OAE test, measures hair cell function in the inner ear. This test can be used to screen hearing, estimate hearing sensitivity, and differentiate between the sensory and neural components of sensorineural hearing loss.
There are also tests for the middle ear. These include tympanometry, acoustic reflex measures, and static acoustic measures. Tympanometry detects fluid in the middle ear, eardrum perforation, and blockage in the ear canal. Acoustic reflex testing is used to determine if the ear’s natural and involuntary reflex to lower the volume of very loud sounds is working properly. Static acoustic impedance measures the physical volume of air in the ear canal to identify problems with the eardrum or ventilation tubes. Additional specialized testing may be recommended based on the results of these initial middle ear tests.