A Guide to Audiometry Hearing Examination
by the Melbourne ENT Group
What is a Hearing Test?
About 15% of the adult Australian population experience problems with hearing, with 37% of these being reversible conditions. In almost all cases, hearing loss can be prevented or minimised by early detection.
Hearing loss can be caused in two main ways.
- Conductive hearing loss occurs in any part of the ear up to the sensory system in the cochlea that detects & turns mechanical sound into an electrical signal. This can include blockage of the ear canal, damage to the eardrum and the inability of the ear to drain into post-nasal space. Conductive hearing loss is often a reversible cause of hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage or malfunction in the cochlea, which detects sound, or the auditory nerve, which transmits this information to the brain. This type of hearing loss is often permanent.
60% of hearing loss in children is due to preventable causes, and up to 30% of Australian children are affected by blockage of the draining canals of the ear, the eustachian tubes. Up to 95% of children with a hearing loss are born to parents with normal hearing. It is crucial in children that hearing loss be identified and treated early to prevent developmental delays in learning, speech and language.
A hearing test is a specialised test offered by an audiologist to determine the presence and possible cause of any hearing loss or impairment. Hearing loss can be identified as conductive, sensorineural or both, with the frequency of sound and location in the ear being isolated or at least indicated.
Why have a Hearing Test?
Hearing tests are important for identifying preventable causes of hearing loss, as they allow the cause to be removed and hearing to improve, or at least not become worse. They are also important for identifying other causes, some of which may be improved through surgery or hearing aids.
Hearing tests offered by a qualified audiologist are popular because they offer many advantages at little to no risk. The following are just a few of these advantages:
- Screening of both common and unusual causes for hearing loss.
- Determining cause and location of hearing loss.
- Excluding hearing problems as cause for autism-like behaviour and speech.
- Early detection of preventable conditions causing hearing loss.
- Reassurance in the case of normal hearing.
- Cost effective solution for reducing risk of long-term hearing loss.
What can be offered as part of an ENT Hearing Examination?
A Hearing Test is a popular series of tests because it offers a variety of benefits for those that need it. Some of these benefits include:
- Tone and Speech Discrimination Tests - Specialised equipment is used to generate tones or speech and examine your ability to discern these. The range and level of hearing affected can be examined through these tests.
- Objective Tests – These tests do not require a response from the listener as they examine the reaction of the ear, nerves or brain in response to sounds. They can be used to specifically isolate frequencies of hearing affected and isolate the location of any problems.
- Paediatric Tests – Visual, behavioural and even play are used as responses to these specialised tests examining the hearing of babies and children. With these, even babies under the age of 7 months can be screened and tested for any hearing problems or deficits
What are the risks?
Many tests carry some form of risk, however with hearing tests this risk is extremely low. Most of the types of tests performed carry no risk at all. Some tests involving placing an instrument in the ear similar to the way a thermometer is inserted, which can carry some risk of irritation and infection. If you have any specific concerns or allergies you are worried about, your doctor will be more than happy to run through these with you.
Is the examination easy to perform?
Whilst using equipment to look at the ear and see how the brain responds may seem straightforward, there is a wide range of mechanical, sensory and neurological pathways that go into hearing. Problems and deficits can present at any point along these pathways, so having a specialist that deeply understands the inner workings of these and how to test for the smallest changes is critical to receiving the best care. An ENT specialist works with audiologists in assessing all of the mechanical, sensory and neurological pathways from the ear to the brain and will ensure the highest level of care.
No, a hearing test is a quick and easy procedure that may take between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the type and complexity of test needed. These tests are minimally invasive and are an excellent way of looking after your health both now and in the long term, so now is the best time to contact a specialist if you have any concerns about you or your child’s hearing!
For the right patient, an ENT hearing examination can be a great option for 5 reasons:
- To screen both common & unusual causes of hearing loss
- To determine the locations and causes of hearing loss
- To exclude hearing issues as a cause of autism-like speech and behaviour
- To detect at an early stage preventable conditions that could cause hearing loss
- To reassure in the case of normal hearing