Regular hearing tests are an important part of maintaining our best health and well-being. Throughout our lives, a hearing test at regular intervals helps us to stay in control of our hearing health. We can identify early noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and take the steps to improve our hearing protection. We can adopt hearing aids as soon as hearing loss becomes problematic, to avoid the unfortunate consequences of untreated hearing loss. We might even find a hearing loss that progresses faster than usual, which could indicate an underlying cardiovascular condition and allow us to address it before an emergency occurs.

How Often Should We Get a Hearing Test?

Both the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Better Hearing Institute recommend getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Those in high-risk professions or with a medical history indicating a higher risk of hearing loss should get a test even more frequently. An audiologist can recommend how frequently you should be tested based on your individual needs, as determined by your occupation, lifestyle, and medical history.

All the parts of a hearing test are completely painless, and only take about 45 minutes to administer.

Steps of a Hearing Test

When you first arrive at the office for your hearing test, you’ll be asked to fill out a questionnaire. It will contain questions about all the ways you spend your time, as well as your medical history and your family’s medical history. This helps to give your audiologist an idea of the concerns you may have, and the problems that might arise with your hearing based on your particular lifestyle.

When you meet your audiologist, they’ll go over your answers with you and discuss them in finer detail. We want to get as good a picture as possible of your experience with your hearing ability so we can accurately gauge what your hearing needs may be.

Physical Examination

Next, we’ll look inside your ear canals with an otoscope, just as your general practitioner does when you visit them. This allows us to see whether there may be any obstructions in the ear canal or perforations in the eardrum that may be contributing to hearing loss. If we find any cause for concern, we will either remove the obstruction or refer you to the appropriate medical professional to address your issue.

Pure-Tone Audiometry

Most of us have had a pure-tone test or screening at some point in our lives. For this portion of the test, your audiologist will ask you to sit inside a sound-proof booth and wear a set of headphones. They’ll play pure tones (sine waves) through the headphones, and ask you to respond to what you hear. You will hear tones at various pitches and volume levels, in one or both ears at a time. Eventually, some of the tones will be too quiet for you to hear. Even those with normal hearing cannot hear every tone. The pure-tone test gives the most accurate picture of your basic hearing ability across the whole frequency spectrum (all pitches, low to high).

Speech Audiometry

Similar to the pure-tone test, but you will hear spoken words instead of tones. You’ll be asked to repeat the words and phrases you hear in the test, so we can get a sense of how your ears and brain together interpret the sound of the human voice.

Speech-in-Noise Tests

This test is the same as the speech test, but with background noise added in. Background noise tends to make speech comprehension much harder. By understanding how much is tolerable for you, we can more-accurately program your hearing aids to help reduce the level of background noise you hear in different real-life scenarios.

Tympanometry

Tympanometry tests your acoustic reflexes. For this test, a pressure-sensing device is fitted with a disposable rubber tip. The test may feel slightly uncomfortable—similar to taking off and landing in an airplane—but does not cause any pain. It measures the responses of the muscles in your middle ear.

Hearing Test Results

The results of your pure-tone test will be displayed on an audiogram. Your hearing ability in both ears will be plotted on a graph that also plots theoretically perfect hearing. The audiogram is easy to understand, and your audiologist will go over it with you and explain your results. They’ll be able to tell you how much if any hearing loss you have, and what they recommend in terms of treatment and/or protection. They will also explain the most likely causes of any hearing loss.

If you think you may have hearing loss, or if you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment today and take charge of your hearing health!