Diagnosing Hearing Loss - A guide to Hearing Loss

If you notice a problem with your hearing then get it checked out. This means a visit to your GP who will ask you about any symptoms you may have as well as carrying out an examination. He/she may ask you about your family history. He or she may conduct a hearing test or refer you to an audiologist, an ENT specialist or an audiovestibular specialist (someone who specialises in hearing, communication and balance disorders). A hearing test may be performed in response to these symptoms or on a regular basis if you are employed in a noisy environment.

Hearing tests

You may undergo one test or a whole series depending on your condition.

These include:

  • Whispered speech test
  • Wide band reflectance
  • Tuning fork test
  • Auditory brainstem response
  • Otoacoustic emissions
  • Bone oscillator
  • Pure tone audiometry

Whispered speech test: this is a very basic form of test in which your GP stands behind you, whispers a set of words and then asks you to repeat these. These can be single words or a combination of words and letters. He/she will move away from you each time as he/she does so in order to test the range of your hearing.

Wide band reflectance: this is mainly used to detect middle ear infections. It is designed to help doctors understand the workings of the ear and the impact of disease, infection or injury upon it. It is not just concerned with the fact that the ear responds to sounds but is more interested in how it actually does so. This is still a relatively new test.

Tuning forks test: tuning forks are often used to determine the pitch of a piano but they can be used to determine the ability of a person to hear high and low frequency sounds. A range of different forks are used for this test.

Auditory brainstem response: this involves using specialist equipment to measure cochlea, auditory nerve and brain activity in response to a sound.

Otoacoustic emissions: a probe is placed in the ear to measure the response of the cochlea to sound waves.

Bone oscillator: a device is placed on the bony part of the ear in order to measure sound waves transmitted through the bone instead of the air.

Pure tone audiometry: an audiometer is used to produce different volumes and frequencies of sounds and these are transmitted to the person being tested via a pair of headphones. This person is asked to push a button each time they hear a noise.

These tests will depend on the type of hearing loss you have. If you are suffering from sensorineural hearing loss then you may undergo more specialised forms of tests, for example an MRI scan.

These will be discussed with you via your GP.

The importance of hearing tests cannot be stressed enough. They can help with the early diagnosis of a hearing problem which could prevent it leading to something more serious such as permanent deafness.

Hearing Loss

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