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How can we know our hearing threshold?

2012-08-23

Audiometry is the testing of a person's ability to hear various sound frequencies. The test is performed with the use of electronic equipment called an audiometer. This testing is usually administered by a trained technician called an audiologist.

Purpose

Audiometry testing is used to identify and diagnose hearing loss. The equipment is used in health screening programs, for example in grade schools, to detect hearing problems in children. It is also used in the doctor's office or hospital audiology department to diagnose hearing problems in children, adults, and the elderly. With correct diagnosis of a person's specific pattern of hearing impairment, the right type of therapy, which might include hearing aids, corrective surgery, or speech therapy, can be prescribed.

Precautions

Testing with audiometry equipment is simple and painless. No special precautions are required.

Description

A trained audiologist (a specialist in detecting hearing loss ) uses an audiometer to conduct audiometry testing. This equipment emits sounds or tones, like musical notes, at various frequencies, or pitches, and at differing volumes or levels of loudness. Testing is usually done in a soundproof testing room.

The person being tested wears a set of headphones that blocks out other distracting sounds and delivers a test tone to one ear at a time. At the sound of a tone, the patient holds up a hand or finger to indicate that the sound is detected. The audiologist lowers the volume and repeats the sound until the patient can no longer detect it. This process is repeated over a wide range of tones or frequencies from very deep, low sounds, like the lowest note played on a tuba, to very high sounds, like the pinging of a triangle. Each ear is tested separately. It is not unusual for levels of sensitivity to sound to differ from one ear to the other.

A second type of audiometry testing uses a headband rather than headphones. The headband is worn with small plastic rectangles that fit behind the ears to conduct sound through the bones of the skull. The patient being tested senses the tones that are transmitted as vibrations through the bones to the inner ear. As with the headphones, the tones are repeated at various frequencies and volumes.

The results of the audiometry test may be recorded on a grid or graph called an audiogram. This graph is generally set up with low frequencies or tones at one end and high ones at the other end, much like a piano keyboard. Low notes are graphed on the left and high notes on the right. The graph also charts the volume of the tones used; from soft, quiet sounds at the top of the chart to loud sounds at the bottom. Hearing is measured in units called decibels. Most of the sounds associated with normal speech patterns are generally spoken in the range of 20-50 decibels. An adult with normal hearing can detect tones between 0-20 decibels.

Speech audiometry is another type of testing that uses a series of simple recorded words spoken at various volumes into headphones worn by the patient being tested. The patient repeats each word back to the audiologist as it is heard. An adult with normal hearing will be able to recognize and repeat 90-100% of the words.

Preparation

The ears may be examined with an otoscope prior to audiometry testing to determine if there are any blockages in the ear canal due to ear wax or other material.

Normal results

A person with normal hearing will be able to recognize and respond to all of the tone frequencies administered at various volumes in both ears by the audiometry test. An adult with normal hearing can detect a range of low and high pitched sounds that are played as softly as between nearly 0-20 decibels. Normal speech is generally spoken in the range of 20-50 decibels.

Abnormal results

Audiometry test results are considered abnormal if there is a significant or unexplained difference between the levels of sound heard between the two ears, or if the person being tested is unable to hear in the normal range of frequencies and volume. The pattern of responses displayed on the audiogram can be used by the audiologist to identify if a significant hearing loss is present and if the patient might benefit from hearing aids or corrective surgery.

 

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