If you think you may be experiencing hearing loss, the first step in getting yourself checked out should be making an appointment with your general physician. Your doctor will ask you a few questions and conduct an examination to rule out any obvious or easily remedied problems that could be contributing to your impaired hearing. This quick and painless examination will involve looking in to your ear with an otoscope (a small magnifying glass with a torch attached to it), to check for any of the following issues:

  • A bulging eardrum that could indicate infection fluid in the middle ear. It is not uncommon to experience mild, temporary hearing loss as a result of infection.
  • A dull eardrum suggesting that there is a build-up of fluid, without infection, in the middle ear. This condition is referred to as “glue-ear” and can result in impaired hearing.
  • Eardrum perforations (holes in the eardrum).
  • Earwax build-up, blockages or any foreign objects that could be contributing to your loss of hearing.

If this examination does not uncover any obvious problems, your doctor will refer you to an audiologist for further testing. Audiologists are highly trained in all aspects of hearing health; here are some of the tests you may be asked to participate in at your audiology appointment:

Pure-tone testing

This is a standard hearing test; it will measure the level and balance of your hearing. You will complete the test in a soundproof room, wearing headphones. The test administrator will play sounds of different pitches and levels in to each of your ears, individually. You will be asked to confirm when you hear a sound, usually by pushing a button, raising your hand or saying “yes.”

Speech perception

You may be asked to participate in this test, which is designed to determine how severely your hearing loss affects your ability to understand speech. During this test you will be asked to identify words that you hear. The test administrator may speak the words to you while they are out of your view, or they may be pre-recorded and played via speakers or headphones. In some cases you may be asked to identify words spoken over a controlled level of background noise.

Bone conduction

This test is designed to identify which part of your ear is not working properly. A vibrating tuning fork is placed just behind the ear, so that the sound it emits can by-pass the outer and middle ear. If it can be heard in the inner ear, you may have conductive hearing loss.

Tympanometry

This will identify any problems with your eardrum that could be contributing to your impaired hearing. Your eardrum needs to be flexible to allow sound to pass through it; a rigid eardrum (possibly caused by an infection or glue ear) would not allow sound to pass through to the middle ear. During this test, a machine gently blows air in to your ear to measure the movement of your eardrum.

Regardless of the testing your hearing care provider uses; it’s important to take your hearing loss seriously and receive treatment. If you have any questions about the above hearing exams, speak with your hearing care provider to ensure you understand each method!