How to Test Hearing

A Trained Audiologist Knows How to Thoroughly Test Your Hearing

For those who were born with and have retained the ability to hear, it is easy to overlook just what a blessing this is. In addition to providing the means to enjoy music, conversation, and the sounds of nature, our ears often warn of dangers that we may not have seen. For all of these reasons, it makes sense to preserve this priceless sensory ability. Should it ever show signs of deterioration, it also pays to be aware that only an audiologist knows everything about how to test your hearing and has the experience gained from applying that knowledge on a daily basis.

That is not to say that a visit to your GP would not be a good starting point, if you feel you may be experiencing problems, such as the need to ask others to repeat themselves or finding that you often have to increase the volume on a radio or TV when others can hear them perfectly. Such symptoms may sometimes only be temporary. A visual inspection with the aid of an otoscope by any physician might, for example, reveal an excessive build-up of earwax or an ear infection, both of which can be treated. In the absence of a visible cause, it may be time to visit a specialist who has been trained to know a little more about how to test your hearing.

Compared with most established healthcare specialities, the science of audiology is a relatively new addition. Auditory impairment first became big news with the return of soldiers with varying degrees of deafness at the end of the First World War. Although the connection between their deafness and exposure to the sound of gunfire was established at this time, the means to quantitate their impairment was only developed in time to help those returning from the Second World War in 1945. Since then, the diagnostic tools and the scope of the audiologist have continued to expand and today, the knowledge of how best to manage the various forms of auditory impairment has become as important as their in-depth knowledge of how to test for and measure hearing loss.

But, what about the testing procedure itself – how does it work, is it painful or uncomfortable, and how will the results be used? These are just a few of the questions that are likely to cross the mind of a patient who may be visiting an audiology clinic for the first time. Firstly, he or she may be assured that the procedures used are all non-invasive and should cause no discomfort at all. Your audiologist is an expert in how to test hearing with nothing more sinister than an otoscope, a tuning fork, and a simple electronic recording device known as an audiometer. At an Ear Institute clinic, a physician’s referral is unnecessary, so it is standard practice to conduct a preliminary otoscopic examination to rule out infections, obstructions, and other problems that might necessitate an ENT referral. If clear, the specialised testing will follow.

An audiometer is a device that generates sounds of various frequencies – starting at a volume corresponding to the accepted lower limit of human audibility and increasing gradually. Each sound is delivered either to the left or right side of a pair of headphones, thus simplifying the matter of how to test hearing in each ear. During the procedure, the wearer must indicate when each sound becomes audible by pressing a button. Each press marks a point on a graph of volume against frequency, which together, form a hearing profile or audiogram that provides the audiologist with a measure of the relative auditory efficiency of each ear.

While the audiogram provides evidence of impairment and its relative severity at various frequencies, this alone is not enough from which to determine the most effective management strategy. For this, knowing how to test for hearing impairment alone is insufficient. It is also necessary to identify the type of impairment. It is at this point when the tuning fork becomes important. Without entering into too much detail, this final step involves two procedures known respectively as the Rinne and Weber tests.

For these tests, the audiologist applies a vibrating tuning fork close to each ear and at various points on the skull while asking the patient in which ear the sound is louder. This is how to test whether the hearing loss is conductive or sensorineural, and a necessary step in ensuring effective management.
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