Tests and Procedures
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    A hearing test is part of an ear examination that evaluates a person's ability to hear by measuring the ability of sound to reach the brain.

    Sounds are actually vibrations of different frequencies and intensities in the air around us; air in the ear canals and bones in the ears and skull help these vibrations travel from the ear to the brain. A hearing test checks for hearing loss, identifies how severe it is and determines what is causing it. A hearing test helps determine what kind of hearing loss you have by measuring your ability to hear sounds that reach the inner ear through the ear canal and sounds transmitted through bones.

    Before beginning any hearing tests, the health professional may check your ear canals for earwax and remove any hardened wax, which can interfere with your ability to hear the tones or words during testing. Talk to your health professional about any concerns you have about the need for a hearing test, its risks, how it is performed or what the results indicate.

    Hearing tests may be performed:

    • To screen babies and young children for hearing problems that might interfere with their ability to learn, speak or understand language. The National Institutes of Health recommends newborn hearing tests for all babies born in hospitals in the United States. Currently, newborn hearing screening is required by law in more than 30 states.
    • To screen children and teens for hearing loss. Hearing should be checked with each well child visit to a health professional. In children, normal hearing is important for proper language development. Some speech, behavior and learning problems in children can be related to problems with hearing. Many schools routinely provide hearing tests when children begin school. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a formal hearing test at ages 4, 12, 15 and 18 years old, as part of a routine physical examination.
    • If hearing loss is suspected, only a whispered speech test is performed during a routine physical examination.
    • To evaluate possible hearing loss, in anyone who has noticed a persistent hearing problem, in one or both ears or if difficulty understanding words in conversation.
    • To screen for hearing problems in older adults. Hearing loss in older adults is often mistaken for diminished mental capacity.
    • To screen for hearing loss in people who are repeatedly exposed to loud noises or who are taking certain antibiotics, such as gentamicin.
    • To determine the type and amount of hearing loss (conductive, sensorineural, or both).
      • In conductive hearing loss, the movement of sound (conduction) is blocked or does not pass into the inner ear.
      • In sensorineural hearing loss, sound reaches the inner ear, a problem in the nerves of the ear or, rarely, the brain itself prevents proper hearing.