Hearing loss is an incredibly common condition impacting people of all ages in the U.S. For many individuals, recognizing the signs of hearing loss can be difficult, particularly when it’s gradual. If you’re unsure of your hearing health, consider having a hearing test

Since hearing loss can occur any time in your life span, here are a few things you should know about hearing tests.

1. Signs you need a hearing test

Babies get their first hearing test in the hospital. Children and teens usually have hearing screenings at school. If you are an adult and think you might need a hearing test, you probably do. Here are some sure signs it’s time to get your hearing tested.

  • Ringing, buzzing or other phantom noise in the ears
  • Frequently asking people to repeat what was said
  • Difficulty hearing a conversation, especially with background noise
  • Others complain that you talk too loudly
  • Family and friends complain that the television or radio volume is too loud

Because hearing loss is gradual, you may live with it for years before it is diagnosed.

2. Types of hearing tests

There are hearing screenings and hearing tests. Hearing screenings are frequently part of a medical exam or are even offered at health fairs and online websites. Screenings are not true hearing tests; they are a pass-fail challenge to determine if there is a possibility of hearing loss. If you fail a hearing screening, there’s a good chance you have hearing loss.

True hearing tests determine your ability to hear across a range of frequencies and tones. These are expressed in decibels (dB) and hertz. The standard battery of hearing tests includes:

  • Pure-tone audiometry
  • Speech discrimination tests
  • Tympanometry
  • Otoacoustic emission testing

Pure tone audiometry and speech discrimination tests focus on the sounds you are able to hear. Otoacoustic emission testing and tympanometry are concerned with how your ears are functioning. In addition to these tests, electrocochleography or auditory brainstem response testing may be performed.

3. Audiograms

The results of your hearing tests are charted on a piece of paper known as an audiogram. It may look like just a series of lines and dots, but it is a roadmap of exactly what tones you can perceive at what frequencies.

The vertical lines represent frequencies (pitch) from low to high and are read from left to right.

Intensity is represented by the horizontal lines and is measured in decibels. It indicates how loud or soft a sound is.

Each ear will be tested and charted separately and the results recorded on the audiogram.

4. Types of hearing loss

If the results of the test, as indicated by the audiogram, indicate that you have hearing loss it may be one of several types.

  • Sensorineural: This is the most common. It can be caused by exposure to loud noise, ototoxic drugs or aging. This type of hearing loss is permanent and is the result of damage to the hair cells in the cochlea. Hearing aids will help you get the most out of the hearing ability you still have by amplifying sounds and delivering them into your ear.
  • Conductive: Less common, but easily treatable, is conductive hearing loss. This is caused when sound cannot make it to the middle or outer ear due to infection or wax build up. Treating the blockage usually restores hearing.
  • Mixed: Mixed hearing loss is commonly described as a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. This means certain symptoms of both might be present, in addition to different causes.

5. Severity of hearing loss

The amount of hearing loss determined by hearing tests is measured in decibels. Classifications are:

  • Mild (21-45 dB) – soft sounds are difficult to distinguish
  • Moderate (46-60 dB) – conversational speech is hard to hear especially in the presence of background noise
  • Moderately Severe (61-75 dB) – very difficult to hear ordinary speech
  • Severe (76-90 dB) – conversational speech cannot be heard
  • Profound (91dB) – almost no sound can be heard

Depending on the severity of hearing loss, hearing aids or other assistive hearing devices may be recommended by the audiologist. In the event you need a hearing aid, your audiologist will walk you through the steps of selecting the perfect device for your lifestyle, hearing needs and budget.