If you’ve noticed a change in your hearing, it may be time to book a hearing exam. As with any medical test it’s normal to be a little nervous, but you shouldn’t worry – hearing exams are not painful. To reassure you, let’s take a look at what to expect at your hearing exam. You’ll find that it is noninvasive and simple!
What is a hearing exam?
Hearing exams assess your ability to hear different sounds, and identify any problems in your hearing. A qualified hearing care professional, such as an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, will carry out the exam. They will then be able to suggest interventions and treatments that will suit your kind of hearing loss.
First, the specialist will ask about your medical background. They’ll be looking for information about things like genetic conditions, any head or ear trauma you have suffered, medications you take, and any exposure to loud noises. All of these things can contribute toward hearing loss.
Visual ear examination
The specialist will use an instrument called an otoscope to look into your ears. They will examine the condition of your eardrum and middle ear, and check for any blockages such as an earwax build-up, discharge or foreign bodies. These things can often cause temporary hearing loss, and can usually be easily resolved.
A series of hearing tests usually take place in a quiet, sound-treated room. There are several different tests used – we’ll describe the main ones to you here.
Pure Tone Audiometry (PTA) test
PTA is used to measure the sensitivity of your hearing and identify what kind of hearing loss you have. You will wear a pair of earphones and listen to tones of different pitches and volumes. When you hear a tone, you simply press a button.
Speech perception tests
These tests are used to assess your ability to hear and understand speech without any visual clues. Words will be played through the earphones, or read out or whispered by the hearing specialist. You repeat the word you hear.
This tests the health of your eardrum (tympanic membrane), the middle ear and the conduction bones. You will wear a small plastic plug inside your ear, and a machine will gently change the pressure in your ear canal. The machine will measure the movement of your eardrum and detect any build-up of fluid behind it.
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) testing
When the cochlea is stimulated by sound, the tiny outer hair cells vibrate. The sound of these vibrations are known as OAEs. During testing, you will wear a small plug in your ear, and a series of clicks or tones will be played to you. You have to be quiet throughout testing. A machine will record your OAEs.
The specialist will discuss your test results with you using a graph called an audiogram. The audiogram displays your range of hearing at different frequencies and volumes. It can show what kind of hearing loss you have, and will indicate the difference between your two ears.
The specialist will then suggest treatments and interventions that can help with your specific kind of hearing loss. You will be able to try on different hearing aids, which can immediately improve your range of hearing.
It can be tempting to put off a hearing exam, but you shouldn’t wait too long. Untreated hearing loss has been shown to negatively affect your health, happiness, income and personal safety. Taking a hearing exam is the first step towards better hearing health – and a higher quality of life.