Hearing health is an integral part of overall well-being. As we age, it’s important to be mindful of hearing health because hearing loss can come on gradually. I suggest a baseline hearing test at age 50 (or sooner), if concerns start to arise. Diagnostic evaluations—like a hearing test—can detect hearing loss early on, allowing you to take proactive steps for your hearing wellness.
In this article we’ll cover general expectations and the parts and process of a typical hearing evaluation. We’ll also cover how much time a hearing test takes for the planners out there. Read on for how to prepare for a hearing evaluation.
Taking Your First Hearing Test? Here’s What to Expect
Hearing Test Preparation FAQs
How Long Does a Hearing Test Take?
A hearing test itself typically takes between 15 to 20 minutes. During this time, an audiologist will assess your hearing using a battery of tests, which includes repeating back words and listening for soft beeping sounds while wearing headphones or a special headband. The order of tests may vary, depending on the clinician’s preference.
A typical hearing test appointment typically includes a consultation and usually takes between 60-90 minutes in total.
What Should You Bring to the Appointment?
You won't need to bring anything for the test. It’s essential to consider any questions or concerns that you may have about your hearing health. Additionally, if you can bring a family member or friend with you to provide support, this could also be helpful.
If this is your first visit to your local office it will be valuable to bring your insurance information for the front office.
What Happens After Your Test?
After completing your test, the audiologist will review your results and provide an audiogram report. They'll also offer advice regarding treatment options or follow-up steps if needed. For example, if you're a candidate for hearing aids, the audiologist may provide some initial information and recommend setting up a hearing aid evaluation appointment to review your treatment options.
The Hearing Test Step By Step
Step 1: Intake and Meet and Greet
The first order of business? You’ll meet with an audiologist and discuss the purpose of your visit, including any hearing health concerns (or goals) you may have. During this part, you'll discuss your personal hearing history and recent concerns. Your audiologist will ask whether you've had any ear surgeries, a history of noise exposure, dizziness or imbalance, or a family history of hearing loss. At this time, you can share relevant details and discuss any particular hearing or ear health-related concerns.
Step 2: Otoscopy
Next, your audiologist will look in your ears with an otoscope and ensure a clear view of your eardrums. If the ear is fully plugged with wax, it must first be removed. However, it's important to note that some wax in the ear is normal and even healthy.
Pro tip: skip the Q-tips (yes, really). It's not uncommon that I see patients have tried to "clean" their ears with Q-tips on the morning of the appointment, as evidenced by fresh wounds in their ear canals. Unfortunately, Q-tips often push the wax further down the ear canal rather than remove it. Read more about safe ear cleaning here.
Step 3: Sound Booth Set Up
Then it’s time for the next part of the appointment in a sound booth. In this evaluation, you'll either wear headphones over your ears or have foam inserts placed in your ear canals (the audiologist will select one of these two options, depending on your ear canal geometry). From there, you'll also receive a button to press when you hear soft beeping sounds or raise your hand instead of pressing a button.
Note: Please let your audiologist know if you're feeling anxious or claustrophobic. It's a routine test for us, but it may be your first time engaging in this evaluation. I like to remind my patients that I'll be able to hear them during the test, the door does not lock, and I check in with them to make sure they're feeling safe.
Step 4: Puretone Air Conduction Test
For this test, your audiologist will give you instructions to listen for soft beeping sounds. You'll be asked to listen for the softest sounds you can hear and press the button or raise your hand when you hear the tone. The sounds will vary during the test, as some will be low-pitched and some will be high-pitched.
Note: It's normal not to be sure at times whether you heard the tone. This test is looking for the softest sound you can hear about 50% of the time. Any tinnitus you hear seems louder in the quiet sound booth.
Step 5: Speech Testing
For the first part of this test module, you'll hear words like "popcorn" or "baseball," and repeat the words back. The words will become very soft, just like with the tones. Next, you'll be asked to repeat the softest words you can hear.
Then for the next part in the test, you'll hear words presented at a comfortable volume and be asked to repeat those words back. This portion of the test might come from a recording, or the audiologist may read words to you that you'll repeat.
Step 6: Bone Conduction Testing
Like the initial air conduction test, you'll listen for soft beeping sounds and signal when you've heard them. Instead of a pair of headphones or earphones, you'll wear a special headband with a small black box that rests just behind one ear.
Depending on your hearing loss, you may hear some “windy noise” while listening for the beeps. Your job is to ignore any sounds other than beeps. Does that sound confusing? Don't worry because your audiologist will explain everything. If there is a difference in how you hear in one ear versus the other ear, the purpose of the noise is to isolate what one ear hears. Basically, think of this test portion as an eye exam when the ophthalmologist covers one eye at a time during a test.
Step 7: Tympanometry
This test—which may be optional—looks at the eardrum and middle ear function, and may include acoustic reflex testing (screening of the auditory pathway by presenting loud beeps). The audiologist might perform this test if you have mixed or conductive hearing loss, eardrum perforation, an ear infection, or to check the status of PE tubes in the ear. You can read more about tympanometry and what the results mean here.
Hearing tests are relatively painless and non-invasive procedures that can give great insight into our hearing health when done regularly from age 50 onwards (or sooner if any concerning symptoms arise). Now that you know what to expect, your first experience should run smoothly. Sometimes just knowing what to expect can help take the edge off any anxiety about having a hearing test.
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