Having a hearing test

Here at What’s My Deafness Claim Worth we have an in-house Audiologist, Helen. We asked her what people can expect when having a hearing test:

In May 2012 I went on a course run by a Consultant Audiologist and Instructor, this taught me how to safely carry out hearing tests. Since then I have regularly conducted hearing tests with a view to establishing whether someone is suffering with noise induced hearing loss.

Providing free hearing tests is a helpful service as waiting for a GP referral to hospital for a hearing test or waiting to get the results from another hearing test provider can cause delays at the start of a compensation claim.

Having a hearing test can be a daunting prospect for some people, not knowing what is going to happen or what you are expected to do.  I hope that by answering some commonly asked questions I can reassure anyone thinking of having a hearing test that there is nothing to worry about.

Do I have to do any preparation before the test?

A build up of ear wax can cause hearing problems and so it is important to ensure your ears are clean. Ear wax is a natural substance which protects the skin of the ear canal and assists in cleaning and lubrication as well as providing some protection to the ear. Some people have more wax than others and it is only when wax builds up that it is likely to cause problems with hearing. So long as your ears are not blocked up with wax you should be fine to take a hearing test. Do not use cotton buds to clean your ears, these will likely just push any wax further down your ear and if pushed too far into the ear, a cotton bud could cause your ear drum to perforate.

Prior to your test it is also important to have had no exposure to excessive noise for 24 hours. Excessive noise is anything that you have to raise your voice or shout over, for example if you work in a noisy environment with no hearing protection, you should not have a hearing test until 24 hours after you have last been at work. This is because exposure to excessive noise can cause temporary hearing loss called ‘temporary threshold shift’ which will give skewed results of your actual hearing thresholds.

Travelling by plane can affect your ears due to the pressure in the cabin.  To ensure this does not affect the results of your hearing test you should wait for 48 hours after you have flown before taking a test.

Colds and infections can also affect your hearing, if you have had a cold or infection you should wait for a week before having a hearing test.

Do I have to answer any questions?

If you are having a hearing test to see whether you can make a claim for noise induced hearing loss it is likely that you will already have spoken to a solicitor about your employment history and how long you have been suffering with hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

For the hearing test there are only a few questions I need to ask to ensure the test results will be as accurate as possible:

  • Have you been exposed to excessive noise in the last 24 hours?
  • Have you been on a plane in the last 48 hours?
  • Have you had a cold or infection in the last week?
  • Do you suffer with tinnitus?
  • Is this in both ears?
  • Is it constant?
  • Do you have tinnitus now?

People who suffer with tinnitus can find hearing tests difficult, particularly when testing the frequency that is similar to their tinnitus.

  • Is your hearing better in one ear than the other?

The tones used in hearing tests are not sounds you would typically hear on a day to day basis, therefore in order to get you used to the sounds you are hearing it is best to start the test on your better hearing ear (if there is one).

Do you do any type of medical assessments?

In order to check that your ear drum is in tact and there are no physical problems within your ear that might affect the results of the hearing test I have to look in your ear. To do this I use an otoscope, this is a medical device with a light, a lens and a disposable specula, this is the part that is inserted into the external part of your ear, this part is thrown away after each examination to ensure that the same specula is not used for multiple people. I have to insert the tip of the otoscope into your ear and look through the lens to see your ear drum. The ear canal is a curved shape and so to see the ear drum at the end of it I have to slightly pull on the top of your ear to straighten the canal out, this should not hurt and I try to be as gentle as I can be.

A healthy ear drum or tympanic membrane, should be a milky white colour with a slight sheen. If you are suffering with an ear infection or your ear drum is perforated I should be able to see this through the otoscope and the hearing test should not be carried out as your hearing may be affected by these conditions.

What type of equipment is used?

  • Otoscope – as detailed above I use an otoscope to examine your ear drum. Only the tip is inserted into your ear and this examination should not hurt.
  • Audiometer – to carry out the hearing test itself I use an audiometer, this is a standard piece of equipment which allows me to play the tones needed for the hearing test.
  • Noise cancelling headphones – I plug a set of noise cancelling headphones into the audiometer, these are what you wear whilst you are doing the hearing test. In an ideal situation I would have a sound proof booth however for the purposes of evaluating the claim the noise cancelling headphones cancel out as much outside noise as possible, making for the most accurate results possible in a non-soundproof environment.
  • Response button – I also plug a response button into the audiometer. This is a button for you to press when you hear a beep tone. When you press the button it lights up a section of the audiometer so that I know you have heard the tone.

Does it hurt?

No part of the otoscope examination or the hearing test should hurt. The headphones can be uncomfortable as they are rather tight. If you are in pain at any time you should advise the audiologist as it should not hurt at all.

How long does it take?

Generally the whole process takes between 15 and 20 minutes.

What happens during the test?

Once I have established that there are no obvious physical problems in the ear I can carry out the test. I explain the instructions to the person taking the test and once they understand what they need to do I ask them to put the headphones on and turn away so they are not looking at the machine. This is to ensure they are not pressing the response button when they see that I am pressing a button on the audiometer as this will not given an accurate measure of their hearing.

During the hearing test I have to play a series of tones at different frequencies and volumes. If someone feels their hearing is better in one ear than the other I would begin with the better ear to allow them to get used to the tones that they are responding to.  I start at 1kHz as this is generally a tone that can be heard at a relatively low volume.

To find the threshold of a person’s hearing at each frequency I have to find the lowest volume that they can hear the tone at and note it down. I then repeat this for 2kHz, 3kHz, 4kHz, 6kHz, 8kHz and 500Hz.

Once I have found the threshold at each frequency for one ear I repeat the process for the other ear. I can then use the figures to draw a graph of the person’s hearing. This is called an audiogram and can look like this:


When will I get the results?

The results of the hearing test can be given as soon as it is finished. I usually draw out the results and talk through them, showing the results that you would expect for a person with no hearing loss, someone with age related hearing loss and someone with noise induced hearing loss.  Consideration can then be given to whether the person has a claim for noise induced hearing loss.

If you are looking to make a claim for noise induced hearing loss compensation it is likely that the solicitors want to review your results alongside your employment history and other details you have provided before advising whether they can assist in pursuing your claim.

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