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hearing test

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The ear bones

Alternative Names
audiology test, audiometry, audiogram, audiography

A hearing test determines how well a person can hear different sounds.

How is the test performed?
Sounds are transmitted by sound waves that travel through the air and through bone. A hearing test usually determines how well a person hears sounds that are presented to the ear and to the skull bones.

Testing for sounds that travel through the air is done with a person wearing earphones over his or her ears. Pure tones of various frequencies are presented to one ear at a time at controlled volumes. The person being tested is asked to indicate when he or she first hears the sound. The softest sounds that the person can detect are recorded for each frequency. The results are put on a graph and compared to a normal hearing graph, or audiogram.

To test for sounds that travel through the bone, tuning forks of different frequencies are tapped and held against a person's skull. The person being tested is asked to indicate which sounds he or she can detect.

What is involved in preparation for the test?
A doctor will provide specific instructions.

What do the test results mean?
The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). A soft sound, such as normal speech, ranges from 5 to 10 dB. A loud sound, such as a jet plane taking off nearby, is about 180 dB. Loud music, such as rock concerts, can reach 80 to 120 dB. Sounds louder than 85 dB can cause hearing loss.

A person with normal hearing can detect low tones (frequencies of 64 cps, or cycles per second) at 1 to 2 dB and high tones (around 11,500 cps) at 10 dB. Most tones in between these extremes can be heard at less than 10 dB.

If a person cannot detect pure tones below 10 dB, some hearing loss may be present.

Conditions that may lead to hearing loss are:
  • acoustic neuroma, which is a non-cancerous growth of the acoustic nerve in the ear canal
  • acoustic trauma, which is hearing loss caused by loud noise that occurs slowly over time
  • age-related hearing loss, which is hearing loss that occurs as a natural result of ageing
  • Alport syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that consists of nerve deafness and kidney problems
  • labyrinthitis, or inflammation of the inner ear canals
  • Meniere's disease, which is a disease of the inner ear that causes dizziness, ringing in the ear, and nerve deafness
  • occupational hearing loss, which is hearing loss that occurs as a result of noise on the job
  • otosclerosis, which is abnormal bone formation in the inner ear
  • ruptured or perforated eardrum
Author: David T. Moran, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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