What to Expect on an Audiologist Test?

man getting his ear checked during an audiologist test

If you’re one of the millions struggling with hearing loss, a hearing test is the first step to getting the help you need. You’re probably curious about the process if you’ve never had your hearing tested before. The good news is that hearing tests are easy, fast, and painless!

In this article, we have covered everything you need to know about hearing tests, including costs, procedures, and diagnosis.

What Happens During an Audiology Exam?

During an audiology exam, an audiologist will conduct an interview and administer one or more hearing tests to determine the severity, type, and underlying cause of your hearing loss.

Before Your Hearing Test

An audiologist will collect information about your hearing health history and check your ears before administering hearing tests.

Medical History

Before evaluating your hearing health, the audiologist needs to get some basic medical information. Your audiology appointment will start with a brief review of your medical history, medications, self-reported symptoms, and family history.

While noise-induced and age-related hearing loss are the most common types, chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and rare congenital disorders can cause hearing problems.

It’s vital to provide your audiologist with as much information as possible, so they can accurately diagnose your condition and develop an effective treatment plan.

The audiologist will also ask about your occupation and lifestyle habits to understand the frequency of your exposure to loud noises. If you want moral support during the interview, bring your friend or family member.

Ear Exam

The audiologist will conduct a visual examination of your ear canal and ear drum using an instrument called an otoscope.

The otoscope has a light at the end so the examiner can adequately view the ear structures. Before starting a hearing test, it’s essential to rule out blockages, ear drum ruptures, infections and other potential acute hearing loss causes.

Types of Hearing Tests

After completing the medical screening and physical exam, the audiologist performs one or more tests to assess your overall hearing health. If you’re wearing hearing aids, you’ll be asked to take them out.

Pure Tone Audiometry

Pure tone testing is the go-to hearing test, also known as an audiogram test. The audiologist will play a series of tones at varying volumes and pitches in a soundproof room and ask if you can hear them.

Their goal is to determine the softest sounds you can hear—the “hearing threshold”—in each frequency range.

You will wear headphones throughout the test, and the audiologist will test each ear separately to see if the hearing loss is more pronounced in one ear than the other. They’ll plot the test results on a grid of volumes and frequencies called an audiogram. The audiologist diagnoses the type of hearing loss by looking at the audiogram’s shape.

Bone Conduction Testing

An audiologist diagnoses conductive hearing loss by sending tones directly into the bone to see if the patient can hear them better than tones sent via the ear.

You will wear a headband with a small plastic piece fitted behind your ear. This plastic piece will vibrate whenever a tone is played, and you’ll notify the tester when you hear a sound.  

If you hear the sound louder through the bone, you have conductive hearing loss.

Middle Ear Tests

Depending on your initial hearing test results, the audiologist may want to test your middle ear function.  

The three basic types of middle ear tests are:

  • Tympanometry: An audiologist will send a puff of air into your ear and measure how your ear drum responds. This test helps diagnose the underlying causes of hearing issues, such as tears and holes in the tympanic membrane or fluid buildup.
  • Acoustic reflex test: This checks how the tiny muscle in your ear contracts in response to loud sounds. 
  • Static acoustic impedance: An audiologist measures the amount of air inside your ear to check for holes in the tympanic membrane or fluid.

Tympanometry helps diagnose the underlying causes of hearing issues, such as tears and holes in the tympanic membrane or fluid buildup.

Speech Audiometry

Most comprehensive hearing tests evaluate how well you can understand conversations using a speech discrimination test. While wearing headphones, you will listen to speech sounds and repeat words back to the audiologist.

Similar to pure tone audiometry, speech testing involves adjusting the levels to determine the softest sounds you can hear.

The minimum sound level at which you can understand speech is called speech threshold. This information is used to adjust hearing aids and other amplification devices.

Otoacoustic Emissions Test

The otoacoustic emissions test is an objective assessment of hearing loss. This hearing test is typically used to screen for hearing loss in newborns and other people who lack the speech ability needed to take a traditional hearing test.

The tester will use special equipment to check the function of the inner ear. In people with normal hearing, the tiny hair cells of the inner ear vibrate in response to external sounds producing soft sounds called otoacoustic emissions.

Otoacoustic emissions will be undetectable if a person’s hearing loss is greater than 25-30 dB. Additionally, if there is a blockage in your ear canal, sounds will not be transmitted to the inner ear.

Did you know you could also test your hearing at home? Check out our honest review of the best online hearing tests you can trust.

Understanding Hearing Test Results

After the exam, the audiologist will discuss the hearing test results with you. If you’re diagnosed with hearing loss, the professional will explain the cause, type, and severity of your hearing loss.

Severity

The audiologist will classify your hearing loss according to severity measured in decibels (dB HL)

  • Normal hearing ability: -10-25 dB HL
  • Mild hearing loss: 25-39 dB HL
  • Moderate hearing loss: 40-69 dB HL
  • Severe hearing loss: 70-94 dB HL
  • Profound hearing loss: Greater than 95 dB HL
graph outlining the severity of hearing loss

Type

Your condition will be categorized based on the part of the ear where the problem is located:

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a problem in the middle or outer ear, known as the conduction mechanism.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is a problem in the cochlea or the hearing nerve.
  • Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the two primary types.

Other Characteristics

Audiologists classify hearing loss based on observed attributes, such as:

  • Onset: Did the condition appear suddenly, or has it gotten gradually worse over time?
  • Laterality: Is the condition present in one ear (unilateral) or both (bilateral)?
  • Symmetry:  Is the condition more pronounced in one ear (asymmetrical), or are both ears affected equally?
  • Stability: Is the condition always the same, or does it fluctuate?

Next Steps

Based on your diagnosis, the audiologist will advise you about treatment options.

If you have mild or moderate irreversible hearing loss, they will refer you to a hearing aid specialist to get fitted for hearing aids.

They may recommend cochlear implants for severe or profound hearing loss.

The audiologist might also determine that your hearing loss could be reversible through medical or surgical treatment. In this case, they will refer you to an ENT for examination and further testing.

The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. Other options include cochlear implants and assistive listening devices.

Medical treatment options include:

  • Surgical removal of tumors and growths
  • Draining fluid, clearing earwax impactions, and removing foreign objects
  • Surgical reconstruction of the ear drum
  • Replacing ear bones with artificial implants

Follow-Up Visits

If you’re at risk for hearing loss, the audiologist will recommend a follow-up visit to monitor the progress of your hearing loss. If you purchase hearing aids, you will have to return to purchase batteries and fine-tune any issues with the device.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does an Audiology Exam Take?

Most hearing tests take around 30 minutes, but some people require more testing than others. You should expect to stay at the audiologist’s office for upwards of an hour and a half, including the check-in, hearing test, and waiting to hear your results.

How Much Does an Audiology Exam Cost?

With medical insurance, the average hearing test costs $60 on average.

This price can vary depending on the clinic, audiologist, and insurance plan. A hearing test can cost as much as $250 without insurance. Before consulting an audiologist, ask your medical insurance provider if audiologist tests are included in their policy.

What is an Audiologist?

An audiologist is a hearing care professional trained to diagnose and treat hearing loss and balance disorders.

Audiologists aren’t medical doctors, but they work with  ENT physicians and generally have doctoral degrees and advanced training.

Can I Get Tested Online?

You may have heard about free online hearing tests. These hearing loss tests are helpful for checking to see if your ears work and deciding if you need an audiology appointment, but they’re not a substitute for a professional test at a hearing clinic.

They cannot be used to definitively diagnose hearing loss.

When Should I Get Tested?

You should get your hearing tested if you have trouble understanding conversations in the presence of background noise, listen to TV at a louder volume than others or show any signs of hearing issues. If you believe you have healthy hearing, it’s still a good idea to routinely get checked once every five to 10 years or every three years if you are older than 50.

Final Thoughts

It is normal to feel overwhelmed during your first audiology appointment. But remember that audiology tests are non-invasive, easy, and fast. All you have to do is provide accurate information about your hearing difficulties and follow the examiner’s instructions during the tests.

Depending on your diagnosis, you may need to get hearing aids or see a medical doctor for further treatment.