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A hearing (audiometric) test is part of an examination that tests how well a person is able to hear. It is done by measuring how well sound can reach the brain.
The sounds we hear start as vibrations in the air around us. The vibrations make sound waves, which vibrate at a certain speed (frequency) and have a certain height (amplitude). The vibration speed of a sound wave determines how high or low a sound is (pitch). The height of the sound wave determines how loud the sound is (volume).
Hearing happens when these sound waves travel through the ear and are turned into nerve impulses. These nerve impulses are sent to the brain, which "hears" them.
Hearing tests help find what kind of hearing loss you have. The tests measure how well you can hear sounds that reach the inner ear through the ear canal. They also measure sounds that are spread through the skull.
Some hearing tests ask you to respond to a series of tones or words. But there are some hearing tests that do not require a response.
Hearing tests may be done:
Before starting a hearing test, the audiologist will look in the ear with a special flashlight called an otoscope. The audiologist is looking to see if there is wax in the ear canal and they are checking the condition of the eardrum.
If they find excessive wax, they may recommend removing the wax before the hearing test. If they see a hole in the eardrum or fluid behind the eardrum, the audiologist may recommend a follow-up visit with your doctor.
A machine called an audiometer plays a series of tones through headphones. The tones change in pitch and loudness. Your audiologist 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 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.
Audiometry is done differently for young children. Instead of raising their hand or pressing a button, children may play listening games, like putting a peg in a pegboard or dropping a block in a bucket. Learn more about hearing tests for children.
In these tests, you hear a series of simple words spoken with different degrees of loudness. You are asked to repeat the words. Your audiologist measures the level at which you can no longer hear the words well enough to repeat them.
Young children may be asked to point to body parts (for example, “Show me your nose”) or point to pictures on a picture card (for example, “Show me the playground”) instead of repeating words to determine the softest level at which they can hear a sound.
In this test, your audiologist will place a soft plastic tip into your ear to measure how your middle ear (eardrum) works. You may hear some sounds. You need to sit quietly for these measurements.
In this test, electrodes are placed on your scalp and on each earlobe. Sounds are then sent through earphones. The electrodes monitor your brain's response to the sounds and record the response on a graph.
During the hearing test you will sit in a quiet sound treated room. This test usually doesn't cause any pain or discomfort.
Sound is described in terms of frequency and intensity. Your hearing threshold is how loud the sound of a certain frequency must be for you to hear it.
The following table relates how loud a sound must be for a person to hear it (hearing thresholds) to the degree of hearing loss for adults. Your audiologist will review the test results with you, answer your questions, and give recommendations based on the test results.
Hearing threshold in decibels (dB)
Degree of hearing loss
Ability to hear speech
No significant trouble hearing.
Trouble with faint or distant speech. Trouble hearing speech in noisy environments.
Trouble with conversational speech in both quiet and noisy environments.
Moderate to severe
Trouble with conversational speech in both quiet and noisy environments. Trouble taking part in group conversation.
Extreme difficulty hearing speech and taking part in a conversation in both quiet and noisy environments.
Will not hear conversational speech in quiet or noisy environments without the use of hearing technology.
CitationsPatel H, et al. (2011). Universal newborn hearing screening. Paediatrics and Child Health, 16(5): 301–305. Also available online: http://www.cps.ca/English/statements/CP/cp11-02.htm.
Adaptation Date: 9/7/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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