Hearing tests are used to assess your ability to hear different sounds and to determine if there are any problems.
Why are hearing tests needed?
Hearing tests are carried out for two main reasons:
- as a routine part of a baby’s or young child’s developmental checks
- to check the hearing of someone who is experiencing hearing problems or has a hearing impairment
It is important that hearing tests are carried out so that the right support and treatment can be provided.
Read more about why hearing tests are needed.
Hearing tests are carried out at regular intervals during childhood, starting with the new born hearing screening programme (NHSP) within a few weeks of birth.
Your child's hearing may also be checked during a general health review when they are a few years old and before they start school for the first time.
If at any point you are worried about your or your child's hearing, you can ask your GP for a hearing test.
Read more about when hearing tests are needed.
What happens during a hearing test?
Although your GP or practice nurse can examine your ears, you will usually be referred to a specialist for a hearing test.
A number of different tests are used to check how well the ears are functioning and their ability to detect different levels of sound.
Common hearing tests include:
- automated otoacoustic emissions (AOAE) tests – a computer attached to an earpiece plays clicking noises and measures the response from the ear
- automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) tests – sensors are placed on the head and neck to check the response of the nerves to sound played through headphones
- pure tone audiometry tests – sounds of different volumes and frequencies are played and a button is pressed when they are heard
- bone conduction tests – a vibrating sensor is placed behind the ear to test how well sound travels through the bones in the ear
The tests used generally differ between children and adults, but they are all completely painless.
The results of some of these tests are recorded on a graph called an audiogram, so that the type of hearing loss can be identified.
Read more about how hearing tests are carried out and hearing and vision tests for children.
Your hearing may be affected if sounds don't reach the inner ear efficiently. This is known as conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by problems such as a blockage in your ear canal (such as from ear wax) or in the middle ear (for example, glue ear). An infection of your outer ear (otitis externa) or middle ear (otitis media) may also be responsible. Hearing loss of this type is often temporary and reversible.
If sounds reach the inner ear but are still not heard, the fault lies in the inner ear or, rarely, in the hearing nerve. This is called sensori-neural hearing loss. Inner ear hearing loss may occur for a number of reasons, most commonly as a result of age-related change. Inner ear hearing loss is nearly always permanent.
Hearing tests are used to determine the type of hearing loss that you have.