What to Expect During a Hearing Exam

Man Getting Ear Exam

Every year, millions of people suffer some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss can leave you feeling confused and vulnerable, wondering what your options are and how best to proceed.

Before investigating any forms of treatment or assistive hearing devices, it’s best to go to an audiologist for a professional hearing test. These tests are non-invasive and can help determine the nature and extent of your hearing issues.

You’ll discover the cause of any hearing loss

A range of factors can cause hearing loss. Many people experience mild hearing loss, for instance, because of impacted cerumen (earwax) blocking sound waves from traveling up the ear canal to the eardrum. Others suffer hearing loss because of injury to the head or infections.

Often, though, hearing loss is the result of problems with the machinery of the inner ear itself. In these situations, more long-term treatment options are required. During the hearing exam, the audiologist will visually inspect your ear to determine whether the problem is anything superficial and then ask you questions about when you first started noticing problems. Remember, many causes of hearing loss are benign, so going to see a specialist can help you avoid worry and stress.

You’ll do a short hearing test

Audiologists know that hearing can start to fail in all sorts of different ways. Everybody’s ears are different. Because of this, they have devised a series of tests which probe various aspects of your ability to process auditory signals. Once the tests are complete, your audiologist should have a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to recommend the correct treatment.

Most hearing tests happen inside a booth where the patient wears a pair of headphones. The audiologist then pipes sounds through to the headphones and the patient pushes a button when they hear a noise. No external cues accompany the sounds - like the movement of a person’s lips - to prevent patients from reporting having heard noises that they cannot actually hear.

During the hearing test process, you may have the following exams:

  • Pure-tone test: Audiologists use pure tones to find out how well you can detect noises of varying pitch. Some people can hear low tones but struggle with high tones and vice versa. The pure tone test helps the audiologist create a profile of your ear’s capacity to interpret sounds, allowing them to recommend appropriate next steps.
  • Speech: In everyday life, people with hearing loss manage their inability to pick up various sounds in speech by using other cues, such as intonation and lip movement. But while in the booth, you won’t get any additional help. This allows audiologists to detect which aspects of speech - such as the sound of certain letters - you struggle with.
  • Tuning fork: Tuning fork tests help to determine whether you have issues with directional hearing. Audiologists tap the tuning fork and then move it around your head while you give feedback on whether you can hear it or not.
  • Bone conduction test: Another test, called a bone conduction test, involves placing a vibrating instrument against the back of your ear. It’s designed to sense how well your auditory nerves pick up vibrations and whether the small bones in your ear are functioning correctly. It sounds like a scary procedure, but it’s barely noticeable and causes no pain.
  • Tympanometry: Finally, a procedure called tympanometry tests whether your hearing loss could be the result of fluid in the middle ear.

How long does a hearing test take?

Most hearing tests are completed between one and two hours, depending on the nature and extent of your hearing problems. Some tests can finish earlier if an obvious cause of hearing loss is detected.

You’ll be asked to provide a medical history

Audiologists need to see your medical history to find out whether any preexisting conditions or medications might be having an impact on your hearing. Sometimes hearing issues can result from undiagnosed but transitory illnesses, such as tinnitus.

Your ears are a complex system and need to be treated as such. Today’s hearing tests provide practitioners with a wide variety of digital outputs to fully characterize any hearing loss. These outputs can then be used to offer advice on the treatment options available to you.

At Peninsula Hearing, our audiologists provide painless, non-invasive hearing tests and can provide information on whether you need hearing aids. All hearing tests are entirely painless.  Speak to our friendly team today by calling our Poulsbo office at (360) 697-3061 or (360) 379-5458 for Port Townsend.