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Hearing Tests: About These Tests

Parts of the ear

What are they?

Hearing tests check how well you can hear. There are many types of hearing tests. If your doctor thinks that you might have hearing loss, he or she may refer you to a hearing specialist (audiologist) to do hearing tests.

Why are these tests done?

You may have hearing tests because you think you have hearing loss or you have ringing in your ears. Your doctor might want to find the type of hearing loss you have and see how bad it is.

How can you prepare for these tests?

  • Avoid loud noises for 16 hours before these tests.

What happens before these tests?

Tell your doctor if:

  • You have recently been exposed to any painfully loud noise or to a noise that made your ears ring.
  • You are often exposed to loud noises.
  • You are taking or have taken antibiotics that can damage hearing, such as gentamicin.
  • You have had any problems hearing normal conversations or noticed any other signs of possible hearing loss.
  • You have recently had a cold or ear infection.
  • You have family members who have hearing loss.

Before beginning any hearing tests, your doctor may check your ear canals for earwax and remove any hardened wax. The wax can interfere with how well you hear the tones or words used during testing.

Some tests require headphones. For these tests, you will need to remove eyeglasses, earrings, or hair clips that may get in the way of the headphones. You may have a thin plastic tube placed in your ear canal to keep it open. The headphones are then placed on your head and adjusted to fit.

If you are wearing a hearing aid, your doctor may ask you to remove it for some of the tests.

What happens during these tests?

Tuning fork tests

Tuning fork tests check how well sound moves through your ear. Your doctor strikes the tuning fork to make it vibrate and produce a tone. Sometimes the tuning fork will be placed on your head or behind your ear. Depending on how you hear the sound, your doctor can tell if there is a problem with the nerves or with sound getting to the nerves.

Pure tone audiometry

Pure tone audiometry checks how well you hear. A machine called an audiometer plays a series of tones through headphones. The tones change in pitch and loudness. Your doctor will reduce the loudness of a tone until you can no longer hear it. Then the tone will get louder until you can hear it again. If you can hear the tone, you signal by raising your hand or pressing a button. The doctor will repeat the test using a higher-pitched tone each time. Each ear is tested separately.

The headphones will then be removed. A special vibrating device will be placed on the bone behind your ear. Again, you will signal each time you hear a tone.

Speech reception and word recognition tests

These tests measure how well you hear and understand normal conversation. In these tests, you hear a series of simple words spoken with different degrees of loudness. You are asked to repeat the words. Your doctor measures the level at which you can no longer hear the words well enough to repeat them.

Auditory brain stem response (ABR) testing

Auditory brain stem response (ABR) testing detects hearing loss caused by a problem in the inner ear, in the nerve that allows you to hear, or in the brain. In this test, electrodes are placed on your scalp and on each earlobe. Clicking noises are then sent through earphones. The electrodes monitor your brain's response to the clicking noises and record the response on a graph.

How long do the tests take?

  • The tests usually take about 1 hour.

What happens after these tests?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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