Do you suspect you have hearing loss? If so, you’re part of the 17 percent of the American adult population who does, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The NIDCD reports that hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults yet only about 20 percent of those who may benefit from treatment actually seek help. 

Why do people wait?

Diagnosing hearing loss requires more than just your loved one telling you to turn the TV down. Like all medical conditions, it requires a visit to a hearing healthcare professional, such as an audiologist. Many individuals tend to delay diagnosis and treatment because they believe the process is scary, will result in learning information they don’t want to know or is too anxiety producing. 

The best way to combat such unknowns is to realize that a hearing loss diagnosis appointment will only improve one’s quality of life. It is also helpful to understand that hearing evaluations are pain-free and relatively easy. Hearing evaluations are simply ways for audiologists to determine the type and degree of hearing loss someone suffers from. They typically require an individual to respond to different tones and sounds, played at varying volumes and pitches.

There are five basic tests that help an audiologist diagnose an individual’s type and degree of hearing loss:

Pure-tone test

A pure-tone test establishes the range of pitches a person can hear. During the test, the patient will wear headphones. A sound will be played through the headphones, prompting the patient to raise his or her hand to acknowledge the sound was heard. For the most accurate results, each ear will be tested separately. 

Speech tests

During a speech test, a patient will be asked to listen to conversation in both quiet and noisy environments. To determine an individual’s speech reception threshold, the audiologist will record word recognition, also known as the ability to repeat words back.

Middle ear tests

During a middle ear evaluation, air pressure is pushed into the canal, causing the eardrum to move in a wavelike motion back and forth. Acoustic reflex, which is the contraction of the middle ear, measures help locate the hearing issue. Testing for acoustic measure enables an audiologist to identify issues, such as a perforated eardrum and check the opening of the ear’s ventilation tubes.

Auditory brainstem response

The auditory brainstem response test provides information about the inner ear and brain pathways needed for hearing. During the test, a patient will wear electrodes that record brain wave activity. 

Otoacoustic emissions

Otoacoustic emissions, which are defined as sounds emitted by the inner ear when the cochlea is stimulated by sound, are measured to narrow down types of hearing loss. Testing these noise emissions requires the insertion of a small probe into the ear canal. The probe measures the sounds produced by the vibration of the outer hair cells, which occurs when the cochlea is stimulated.