Diagnosing Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is diagnosed initially through a medical history and a physical examination. If hearing loss is suspected, your physician may conduct initial screening tests in the office. If these tests suggest or reveal hearing loss, you may be referred to an audiologist for a more thorough audiologic evaluation to determine whether you have hearing loss, how severe it is, and which part of the ear is affected.

An audiologist uses a variety of clinical tools and technologies to measure a patient’s hearing acuity. If a hearing loss is present, the audiologist will recommend appropriate follow-up measures.Specialized equipment is used to screen for hearing loss in newborns and infants.Tests for Hearing LossA number of different tests are available to identify the nature and degree of hearing difficulty and to help determine effective treatments. A hearing test takes anywhere from five minutes for a simple screening to an hour or more for a full evaluation.Some of the tests that are used include:

  • Pure-Tone Audiometric Tests—Pure-tone audiometric testing is the primary test used to evaulate an individual’s hearing for conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Using a machine called an audiometer, an audiologist plays a series of different tones for you through a set of headphones. The tones vary in pitch and loudness. When you hear a tone, you signal by raising your hand or pressing a button.
  • Speech Reception and Word Recognition Tests—In these tests, which measure your ability to hear and understand speech, you will be asked to repeat a series of simple words that are spoken by the audiologist or played through a CD.
  • Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) Testing—This test is often used to screen newborns for hearing problems. It’s done by placing a small, soft microphone in the baby’s ear canal. Sound is then introduced through a small flexible probe inserted in the baby’s ear. The microphone measures the inner ear’s response to the sound.
  • Auditory Brainstem Evoked Potential (Also called Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response)—In this test, recording disks are placed on the scalp and each earlobe. Clicking noises are then sent through headphones. The recording disks monitor the brain’s response to the clicking noises and record the response on a graph.
  • Acoustic Immittance (Tympanometry)—A small probe is placed in the outer portion of the ear canal and gentle pressure is put into the ear canal to check the mobility of the eardrum. A series of loud tones may also be given, which tests the function of the middle and inner ear.

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