Different Hearing Loss Tests, and what You Can Learn from Each

Understanding the many available options for hearing loss tests can be challenging. Technology is continually evolving to improve existing tests or even develop new ones. Different hearing loss tests vary in terms of what they evaluate and what information they provide. Doctors select hearing loss tests depending on their patients' health and what type of hearing loss they are evaluating.

Sensorineural hearing loss (also known as nerve deafness) happens due to structural problems in the ear or issues with the nerves that regulate hearing. According to MedlinePlus, it can show up at any age and is often permanent. Conductive hearing loss occurs when a blockage prevents sound from entering the ear. Common causes include fluid buildup and ear infections.

If your doctor suspects you have hearing loss they may refer you to an audiologist or otolaryngologist (ENT) for testing and diagnosis. These specialists may recommend one or more of the following hearing loss tests:

Pure-Tone Testing

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Pure-tone testing (also known as air conduction testing) is one of the most commonly-used hearing tests. During pure-tone testing, your audiologist will ask you to put headphones on, listen to a series of “beep” sounds, and indicate which sounds you are able to hear, according to MedlinePlus. By directing the sounds through your outer and middle ear, pure-tone testing can show your sensitivity to sound at different frequencies. You may need additional testing to determine the type of hearing loss you have.

Bone Conduction

This test can help your doctor determine if your hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural, or both. Using a bone vibrator headset, your provider will send targeted sounds right to your inner ear. According to the University of California, San Francisco, if you can hear better with bone conduction, you most likely have conductive hearing loss stemming from the outer or middle ear. On the other hand, your hearing loss is likely sensorineural if you hear sounds equally well with the standard earphones and the bone vibrator.

Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)

The ABR test examines your inner ear and brain hearing pathways for signs of damage. It can be helpful for diagnosing sensorineural hearing loss. According to the University of California, San Francisco, your doctor will conduct the ABR test by placing electrodes on your head using a temporary adhesive and connecting them to a computer. The computer will record your brain wave activity and track how it responds to sound.

“Once a full assessment has been completed, an audiologist can explain the results, show what frequencies are affected, and discuss treatment options,” audiology specialist Jewell Baggett-Strehlau, AuD tells ishonest Connect to Care. “An audiologist can also counsel a patient and their family [about] acoustics of speech, how to make the most of visual cues, environmental adjustments, use of captions, or other assistive devices,” Baggett-Strehlau says.

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