A hearing test is not to be confused with a hearing screening. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), a hearing screening is a preliminary process that weeds out those patients who have signs of possible hearing problems, specifically those who may need further evaluation by a qualified audiologist.

A hearing test evaluates a person’s ability to hear by measuring how well sound reaches his brain. A hearing test can determine the nature and degree of hearing loss, if any, as well as the most effective treatment option.

Who Should Have a Hearing Test?

Anyone who has noticed some hearing loss in one or both ears should get their hearing tested. A hearing test is also performed on:

  • Infants and young children to screen for hearing problems that could impair speech or learning ability.
  • Children and teenagers, to screen for hearing loss
  • Older adults, who tend to lose some hearing ability as they age
  • Individuals who have had long-term repeated exposure to loud noises or are antibiotics that can affect hearing ability, such as gentamicin.

Types of Hearing Tests

An audiologist conducts several types of hearing tests to evaluate a patient’s hearing ability. Some hearing tests require the patient to respond to a series of tones or words, but other hearing tests do not. Hearing tests normally do not cause any pain. You should let the audiologist know if you feel any discomfort.

A hearing test may involve:

  • Auditory brain stem response (ABR) testing to detect sensorineural hearing loss (indicating a problem with the inner ear, or cochlea).
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) testing – typically used to screen hearing ability in newborns.
  • Pure tone audiometry tests to determine the how well a person can hear at various pitches ranging from very low (whisper) to high.
  • Listening and speech testing to determine how well a person can hear spoken words at varying degrees of volume.

The audiologist will then review each test result to evaluate the patient’s hearing abilities and needs and to see if more testing is necessary.

Considering a Hearing Test?

If you have noticed a difference in your ability to hear and think a hearing test is warranted, talk to your doctor. You should tell your doctor if you have been exposed to loud noise over a long period of time, if you have or are taking antibiotics known to damage hearing, or have recently had a cold or ear infection. Be honest with your doctor; relay all of your concerns and questions about hearing tests and any potential risks involved.