Hearing Loss Test
Contributed by Brande Plotnick, MS, MBA, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
This content was last reviewed on: September 13th, 2016
Do you suspect you have a hearing loss? How can you be sure? A thorough hearing test is the first step in your journey to better hearing health.
Do you suspect you have a hearing loss? How can you be sure? Hearing loss can affect anyone and often progresses so gradually, it can be difficult to notice until you experience symptoms. Hearing loss has far-reaching effects on your health, so getting a baseline hearing test and annual follow-up tests can help you catch it early.
The purpose of a hearing test is to determine not only if you have a hearing loss, but how mild or severe it is. A thorough hearing test can also help define the type of hearing loss you have: conductive, sensorineural or mixed and whether it will respond best to medical treatment or hearing aids.
A hearing health history
Finally, your hearing health professional might want to discuss the symptoms you are experiencing and how they are affecting your daily life. They will want to understand your lifestyle and the types of work, hobbies and social situations that are important to you.
After your hearing health history is complete, the hearing test can begin.
Getting a hearing test
Speech audiometry is another component of most hearing tests, and it uses recorded or live speech instead of pure tones. The speech portion of the exam evaluates the softest speech sounds (threshold) you can hear and understand. You will then be asked to repeat back words that are presented at a level well above threshold to see how well you can understand them accurately. Some practitioners use speech sounds to determine your most comfortable listening level and the upper limits of comfort for listening.
If necessary, the practitioner may perform tympanometry and a test of your acoustic reflexes. For these tests, a soft plug that creates pressure changes and generates sounds will be placed in the ear. This will determine how well your eardrum is moving and will measure the reflexive responses of the middle ear muscles.
Understanding your hearing test results
Your results will be plotted in decibels of hearing threshold level (dB HL). These units are unique to hearing testing but are based on perception of sound pressure levels across all frequencies. For each tone you heard during the test, there will be a mark on the audiogram at the appropriate decibel level. Each ear is plotted separately and represented by two different lines. The lines may be quite similar and follow the same pattern or they may be very different.
- Normal hearing (0 to 25 dB HL)
- Mild hearing loss (26 to 40 dB HL)
- Moderate hearing loss (41 to 70 dB HL)
- Severe hearing loss (71 to 90 dB HL)
- Profound hearing loss (greater than 91 dB HL)
Although some people talk about hearing loss in terms of percentage, it is not an appropriate or meaningful measure of hearing loss. It is very common to have more hearing loss at some frequencies than for others, so the percentage of hearing loss would be different at each test frequency, making it virtually meaningless when describing the overall hearing loss or determining a course of treatment. In a clinical setting, hearing loss is not described in percentages. However, it can be expressed in percentages for specific legal situations. In these cases decibels of hearing loss are converted using a recognized formula to create a “percentage of hearing loss” for legal purposes
Online hearing tests
- Some use audio samples to determine a range of hearing loss.
- Some ask questions to determine if you’re having enough trouble to see a hearing healthcare professional.
Online hearing tests are by no means a replacement for a thorough diagnostic hearing evaluation, but they can be a good place to start if you are hesitant about making an appointment. Not sure where to start?