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Hearing Tests

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor if you:

  • Have recently been exposed to any painfully loud noise or to a noise that made your ears ring. Avoid loud noises for 16 hours prior to having a thorough hearing test.
  • Are taking or have taken antibiotics that can damage hearing, such as gentamicin.
  • Have had any problems hearing normal conversations or noticed any other signs of possible hearing loss.
  • Have recently had a cold or ear infection.

Before beginning any hearing tests, the health professional may check your ear canals for earwax and remove any hardened wax, which can interfere with your ability to hear the tones or words during testing.

For tests in which you wear headphones, you will need to remove eyeglasses, earrings, or hair clips that interfere with the placement of the headphones. The health professional will press on each ear to find out whether the pressure from the headphones on your outer ear will cause the ear canal to close. If so, a thin plastic tube may be placed in the ear canal before the testing to keep your ear canal open. The headphones are then placed on your head and adjusted to fit.

If you are wearing hearing aids, you may be asked to remove them for some of the tests. You may be asked to shampoo your hair before you have auditory brain stem response (ABR) testing.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about the need for a hearing test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

How It Is Done

Hearing tests can be done in an audiometry laboratory by a hearing specialist (audiologist) or in a doctor's office, a school, or the workplace by a nurse, health professional, psychologist, speech therapist, or audiometric technician.

Whispered speech test

In a whispered speech test, the health professional will ask you to cover the opening of one ear with your finger. The health professional will stand 1 ft (0.3 m) to 2 ft (0.6 m) behind you and whisper a series of words. You will repeat the words that you hear. If you cannot hear the words at a soft whisper, the health professional will keep saying the words more loudly until you can hear them. Each ear is tested separately.

Pure tone audiometry

Pure tone audiometry uses a machine called an audiometer to play a series of tones through headphones. The tones vary in pitch (frequency, measured in hertz) and loudness (intensity, measured in decibels). The health professional will control the volume of a tone and reduce its loudness until you can no longer hear it. Then the tone will get louder until you can hear it again. You signal by raising your hand or pressing a button every time you hear a tone, even if the tone you hear is very faint. The health professional will then repeat the test several times, using a higher-pitched tone each time. Each ear is tested separately. The headphones will then be removed, and a special vibrating device will be placed on the bone behind your ear. Again, you will signal each time you hear a tone.

Tuning fork tests

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 08, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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