10 June 2013

Guest Post: What Happens at a Hearing Test

image courtesy pedsent.com

Editor's Note: Young children or those otherwise unable to respond reliably to stimuli might be tested using different methods, including ABR testing, which measures brainwave response to sound without any patient input! However, this guest post details the average protocol what an older child or adult hearing test might look like. To read more about age-related hearing loss, check out our post from another guest blogger on the subject here. And thanks for talking us through the test, Jamie! 

If you've noticed some changes in your hearing, the best thing to do is see a trained audiologist. It's natural for our hearing thresholds to increase a bit as we age, but some people's hearing decreases faster than others. Common symptoms of hearing loss include "muffled" hearing, trouble understanding speech (and asking people to repeat themselves more than usual), buzzing or ringing in the ears, vertigo, ear pain or itching, or a withdrawal from social situations that make communication difficult, like restaurants with a lot of background noise.

At a hearing test, an audiologist can conduct all the necessary testing, read the results, and provide recommendations about possible next steps, including amplification options, if necessary.
The process is simple, but we can understand if you’re not too keen on going to see a doctor; the unknown can be somewhat unnerving. Luckily, you really have nothing to be worried about when it comes to a hearing test–they are really quick and totally painless.

At a Hearing Health Check
A hearing health check is super quick, taking only fifteen minutes of your time; and, in many places, it's completely free! This is the perfect choice for you if you just fancy a check-up or if you’ve never had a hearing test done before.
The appointment consists of a general check of the state of your ears (the audiologist looks inside with an otoscope) as well as a basic hearing test, where you’ll be asked to respond to a number of sounds played to you through headphones.
That’s it! If anything comes up, you’ll be told, and you can make a follow-up appointment for the full hearing test at a later date. If you get the all clear, then that’s even better!
At a Full Hearing Test
A full hearing test will take a bit longer, roughly an hour in total, as there is more to cover.
It will begin with a bit of a chat–you and the audiologist will discuss your hearing, talking about your overall health and lifestyle as well as the history of your hearing and whether you have had problems previously. This will help the audiologist understand the potential causes of your hearing loss, if you have any.
Next, you’ll have your ears looked at, to see the general health of both your ears and your ear canals. The audiologist will look for any obstruction or infection that might be affecting your hearing, such as a build-up of wax. If anything is found that requires medical attention, they’ll refer you to your GP as usual.
Then you’ll have the hearing test. It will be conducted in much the same way as the hearing check was, but a little more in-depth. You'll be asked to respond--usually by pressing a button or raising your hand--whenever you hear a sounds which are played to you. From this, an audiogram of your hearing will be plotted, which will show the different levels of your hearing. Depending upon your age and symptoms, some audiologists also present a word discrimination test, in which the patient is played words at different volumes and asked to repeat the words back. The words are usually two syllables and relatively common, like "airplane" or "baseball," containing a wide variety of vowels and consonants. This testing helps determine how much functional hearing a listener has in the context of understanding speech. Additionally, a major difference between a pure-tone threshold (one's ability to hear the basic beeping sound in the hearing test) and the word-discrimination threshold might be indicative of a different kind of hearing loss, like an auditory-processing disorder. 
After the testing is finished, you’ll have another brief chat to discuss the results. If your hearing is normal, you’ll be referred to another check-up in two years time; otherwise, you may be recommended a hearing aid or other assistive listening device.
As you can see, there’s truly nothing to be concerned about in a hearing test. It's quick, painless, and will put your mind at ease–go and get one done today!

Jamie King is a UK writer currently working on behalf of Boots Hearingcare. If you're UK-based and concerned about your hearing, book a free hearing test here.

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