Much like an eye exam is crucial in the treatment of vision impairment, hearing tests are a vital diagnostic tool used to measure and treat hearing loss. A comprehensive hearing test, also known as an audiogram, has several parts, including:
- Pure-tone audiometry: This test measures hearing thresholds at different frequencies, from low-pitched to high-pitched sounds. The test is conducted with headphones or inserts placed in the ear canal, and the patient is asked to indicate when they hear a tone.
- Speech audiometry: This test assesses how well a person can hear and understand speech. It involves playing recorded speech signals at different volumes and asking the patient to repeat the words or phrases they hear.
- Bone conduction audiometry: This test assesses the hearing abilities of the inner ear by bypassing the outer and middle portions of the ear. It involves placing a small vibrator behind the ear, which transmits sound directly to the inner ear.
- Tympanometry: This test measures the movement of the eardrum in response to changes in air pressure. It can help identify problems in the middle ear, such as fluid buildup or blockages.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) testing: This test measures sounds generated by the inner ear in response to sound stimulation. It can help identify the presence of hearing loss in infants and young children who cannot respond to traditional hearing tests.
Hearing test results are plotted on a graph called an audiogram, giving physicians a comprehensive picture of the function of the ear and hearing nerve.
While an audiogram is primarily used to measure hearing function, it can also detect other underlying conditions that seem unrelated to the ears, such as Meniere’s disease and other balance disorders. Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear, affecting balance and hearing, characterized by symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). This condition is caused by a buildup of fluid in the inner ear, which can lead to damage to the delicate structures responsible for hearing and balance.
When a person with Meniere’s disease undergoes an audiogram, the results can show a specific pattern of hearing loss known as low-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. This means that the person has difficulty hearing low-pitched sounds — a characteristic feature of Meniere’s disease. The audiogram can also help to rule out other causes of hearing loss, such as damage to the outer or middle ear.
In addition to being a key diagnostic test for Meniere’s disease, doctors use audiograms to detect other disorders, such as vestibular schwannoma. Vestibular schwannoma is a rare condition in which a benign tumor grows on the nerve responsible for hearing and balance. When a person with vestibular schwannoma undergoes an audiogram, the results may show a specific pattern of hearing loss known as high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. This means that the person has difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, a characteristic feature of vestibular schwannoma.
An audiogram is far more than a simple hearing test. Audiograms provide crucial insights into hearing loss patterns, enabling healthcare professionals to develop personalized treatment plans. If you or someone you know is experiencing hearing loss or balance problems, it is essential to seek medical attention and undergo a comprehensive evaluation, which should include an audiogram.