Understanding Hearing Tests

Otorhinolaryngologist Examining Patients Sore Ear With Otoscope

Hearing tests are perhaps the most important aspect of hearing health, throughout our lives. They allow us to establish a baseline of hearing ability, while also cluing us in when something might be wrong. A comprehensive hearing evaluation can tell you not only whether you have hearing loss, but often enough can give you a clue as to what might be causing it. Hearing tests empower you with the ability to prevent future hearing loss, eliminate causes of conductive hearing loss, provide an objective assessment of when it is time to begin treating hearing loss with hearing aids, and more.

How Often Should I Get a Hearing Test?

The Better Hearing Institute and The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association—both non-profit organizations—recommend getting a hearing test at least once every decade until age 50, and once every three years thereafter. Those in higher-risk professions, or with a medical history indicating a higher risk of hearing loss, should be tested even more frequently.

Whether or not you’ve had a hearing test at a regularly scheduled interval, if you feel like something may be off with your hearing—or if someone who knows you well has suggested you might have hearing loss—you should make an appointment for a hearing test. It’s never too late to take charge of your hearing health!

What to Expect at a Hearing Test

When you arrive at the office, your hearing test should begin with an intake form. This gives you an opportunity to note specifics about your hearing ability, medical history, family medical history, and specific goals you might have for your hearing loss treatment.

Next, you will confer with your audiologist, who will also perform a physical examination of your ears with an otoscope, like your general practitioner does. This helps ensure that any hearing loss you may be experiencing is not due to a blockage in your ear canal, or eardrum perforation, as these can be treated without the use of hearing aids.

The Hearing Test

For most hearing tests, you’ll be asked to step into a soundproof booth. Then, you’ll put on a set of headphones. Your audiologist will play various sounds at different volume levels into one or both ears and ask you to respond to what you hear. The test is completely painless, and should not take more than a half hour.

Pure-Tone Audiometry

The first part of a hearing test usually involves pure-tone audiometry. For this test, your audiologist will play a series of “pure tones” into your headphones. Pure tones are sine waves. Much like the sound produced by a tuning fork, they produce sound at one frequency (pitch), and one frequency only. This allows your audiologist to get the most accurate measure of how well you hear at any given frequency, and allows them to create an audiogram. An audiogram is a graph that displays your exact hearing ability in each ear, along with a plot that would be considered “normal hearing.”

Speech Audiometry

An exact measurement of your hearing ability is a good thing to have, but, out in the real world, we’re usually not listening to pure tones! Speech audiometry works just like pure-tone audiometry, but involves recorded sounds of human speech instead of pure tones. This gives your audiologist an idea of how much speech might need to be amplified for you to hear it comfortably.

Speech-in-Noise Audiometry

Just like speech audiometry, but with some background noise added in. Modern hearing aids have the ability to suppress background noise while amplifying speech, and this test gives your audiologist an idea of how much background noise suppression may be needed for you to understand speech clearly in noisier environments.


This test happens back outside of the soundproof booth. Your audiologist will fit a device with a rubber tip into the outside of your ear canal. The device changes the pressure in your ear. It is still painless, though it may be a little uncomfortable, like taking off in an airplane or driving through the mountains. Tympanometry allows your audiologist to test your acoustic reflexes, and find out if there are any anomalies with your eardrum or the parts of your middle ear.

After the Hearing Test

Depending on the results of your hearing test, your audiologist may recommend that you start wearing hearing aids. There have been major advances in hearing aid technology in recent years, and you may be surprised at all that hearing aids have to offer! Your audiologist will discuss your options and help you choose the hearing aids that are most likely to be the best fit for your hearing needs and lifestyle.

If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can improve your life!