Our managing director Mark Scutchings and senior audiologist at our Sevenoaks branch, Sandra Rodrigues, explain what’s involved in a hearing test.
Getting your hearing tested
When you go along to see your optician to get your sight tested he or she will perform a range of diagnostic tests to measure different aspects of your vision.
As well as measuring the limits of your vision using an eye chart, you may have your visual fields measured and the pressure inside the eye may be measured too.
When you visit your audiologist it is much the same. As well as measuring your ability to hear very quiet sounds, your audiologist can look at the mechanical functioning of the middle ear, your ability to hear speech in noise and other aspects of the hearing pathway.
However, just as in optics, with the traditional sight test, in audiology we rely on the basic hearing test, more correctly known as the pure-tone audiogram as the starting point for any examination of your hearing.
This test has been the standard way of measuring hearing since the early part of the 20th century and has changed little since then.
Highly sensitive test
The principle of the test is quite straightforward. You listen to a series of tones of varying frequency and intensity and indicate which ones you can hear. The idea is that the audiologist is able to determine the quietest sound that you can hear for a given frequency in each ear. The pure-tone audiogram does not tell us everything about your hearing, for example it does not directly measure your ability to hear speech in noise, which is one of the biggest problems for someone with a hearing loss, but the test does have a lot of advantages.
- Firstly, it’s highly sensitive and can measure very small changes in hearing over time.
- Secondly, it is reproducible, tests carried out by different examiners or at different locations should be directly comparable because all audiologists operate to the same international standards. They are trained to perform the test in the same way and the equipment is calibrated to the same levels. The background noise level of the test environment is strictly controlled and even little details such as the pressure of the headband of the headphones is standardised as this may have an effect on the result of the test.
- Thirdly, the resulting graph gives a simple representation of the hearing levels of the two ears independently and is easy to understand even if you are not an expert.
- Fourthly, the result of the pure-tone audiogram can be directly applied to the prescription of a hearing aid, if that is what is required.
When you have your hearing tested the first thing that will happen is that you’ll be asked some questions. The audiologist needs to understand a bit about your medical history, possible noise exposure and any factors that may have caused your hearing to deteriorate over time.
The examination of the ear air will involve finding out whether or not you have excessive wax which may be a cause of your hearing loss or affect the result and whether there are any abnormalities visible in the ear such as damage or perforation to the eardrum.
After the examination, comes the hearing test itself when you will be asked to listen to a series of tones through headphones, pressing a response button to indicate the sounds that you can hear so that the audiologist can determine the limits of your hearing.
The duration of the test will vary from person to person as some people are able to respond more accurately and quickly than others and there are various additions to the test that may need to be carried out depending on the pattern and degree of your hearing loss. The maximum duration of a hearing test is about thirty minutes, but a straightforward audiogram will be quicker than this.
Degree of hearing loss
At the end of the test the audiologist will be able to show you the graph and explain what it means. This graph or audiogram shows the degree of hearing loss across a range of frequencies in each ear independently. The baseline is average normal hearing in the population, so your hearing is being compared to the average of individuals with perfect hearing.
Another interesting thing to note is that the hearing test is normally conducted over the frequencies that we need to hear speech clearly. As audiologists, our key goal is to maximise the understanding and intelligibility of speech and minimise the intrusive effects of background noise, so we do not pay too much attention to sounds that fall outside the range of human speech.
The audiogram is a straightforward and accurate way of getting a good snapshot of your hearing. It may not be the only aspect of hearing that we want to measure, but it is the starting point of any audiological investigation and may lead to further diagnostic tests, medical intervention or the provision of a hearing aid if that is what is needed.
If you are worried about your hearing then ring us on 0800 028 6179 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free hearing test
Watch an interview with Mark in which he talks about hearing aids.