You know what tests to expect when you go to the doctor for a check-up, or to the eye doctor for your annual visit. If it’s been years since you’ve had your hearing checked, you may not be familiar with what types of tests diagnose hearing loss. Because hearing loss comes on gradually, it’s important to see an audiologist for baseline tests, and then regularly to check for any changes.

The hearing test appointment

Before we go into the different tests available, it’s important to understand what happens at the hearing test appointment. In addition to hearing tests, you will have your ears examined by the audiologist. This can help determine if earwax is causing a reduction in hearing or if there are other physical issues. The audiologist will also discuss any medications you are taking since some medications can affect your hearing. You’ll also talk about your medical history and whether any family members have hearing loss.

Pure-tone testing

You may be familiar with this test because it’s probably similar to one you had in elementary school. You go into a soundproof room and put on headphones and listen to sounds. You identify in which ear you hear the sound. These sounds are soft and loud, high-pitched and low-pitched. The test helps determine your range of hearing.

Speech testing

Instead of tones, this test uses words. You listen to words – either recorded or live – and repeat back what you hear. The tester may sit behind you or cover his or her mouth with a piece of paper to prevent lip-reading. This test helps determine listening levels.

Tuning fork testing

Just as the name implies, this test uses a tuning fork to determine if there are conductive or nerve issues. The audiologist places the tuning fork next to one ear (and then the other) and taps it. You say when the sound fades and whether it seemed louder on one side or the other.

Testing for children

While some of the above tests are used to evaluate hearing in older children, there are other tests used to evaluate hearing in infants. These tests include the otoacoustic emissions test (OAE) and the auditory brainstem response test (ABR). Both measure the inner ear’s response, the OAE for sound and the ABR for nerve response.

Middle ear tests can determine if a pre-school child has problems stemming from ear infections, fluid in the ear or a perforated eardrum. A tympanogram pushes air into the ear canal to test the movement of the eardrum. An acoustic reflex test can determine the location of any hearing problem.

All these hearing tests can help evaluate the likelihood and degree of hearing loss. Each test has a specific application and it’s the combined results of the tests that give audiologists the answers they need to determine how best to treat your hearing loss. Knowing the types of tests that diagnose hearing loss helps prepare you for your appointment.