Types of Hearing Tests


About 20 percent of Bay Area residents are experiencing hearing loss. Many aren’t even aware of the problem; hearing loss develops gradually, and we often adjust to it over time as we grow used to hearing less. The volume on the TV creeps up little by little until one day a loved one tells us to “turn it down already, and by the way, get your ears checked!” Annoying tone aside, this is good advice. Hearing tests are a surefire way to diagnose hearing loss and are especially important in getting it treated. Early detection is key – not only in finding a solution to improve your quality of life, but in preventing complications associated with hearing loss.

The Importance of Hearing Tests

Woman Having Her Hearing Tested in San Francisco

Hearing loss isn’t just frustrating and inconvenient; left untreated, it can lead to many negative physical, social, and cognitive health effects, including:

  • Irritability and anger
  • Fatigue, stress, and depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
  • Memory impairment
  • Reduced job performance and earning power
  • Cognitive decline and depression

Even San Francisco residents who do not suspect hearing loss should make regular hearing tests a routine part of their overall health screening once they reach the age of 50. They’re not just for older adults, either; babies and toddlers should have their hearing tested in order to prevent delays in speech and language development.

Hearing Evaluations

Unlike multiple choice tests, you can’t “guess” on a hearing test and get lucky. But there’s nothing to worry about! Hearing tests are completely safe and painless. They are performed in a soundproof booth and results are plotted on an audiogram – a chart that shows your hearing response to different frequencies.

There are a variety of different hearing tests. Your audiologist may recommend one or several of the following:

  • Air Conduction Test. Also referred to as pure tone audiometry, this test involves responding to tones of varying volume and frequency by raising a hand, pressing a button, or giving a verbal reply. Your responses will determine how well you can hear at different frequencies, an indication of whether you have a conductive or sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Bone Conduction Test. Bone conduction testing is similar, but instead of wearing headphones, a two-pronged metal instrument known as a tuning fork is placed on your head. When struck, it vibrates and produces a mechanical tone stimulates the cochlea. Your response indicates how well sound is traveling through your ear.
  • Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR). In an ABR test, electrodes are attached to your head, scalp and earlobes, and you are given headphones to wear. A series of clicking noises is sent through the headphones, and the electrodes measure your brainwave activity in response to these sounds. It is a reliable indicator of sensorineural hearing loss and is often used in newborn hearing screening programs.
  • Speech Testing. Speech testing measures your speech reception and word recognition abilities. You are given a series of words and phrases delivered at normal conversational levels and asked to repeat them. Testing may be performed in both quiet and noisy backgrounds.
  • Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs). In an OAE test, a probe containing a microphone and speaker is inserted into the ear canal and sound is generated. This stimulates the cochlea and causes the hair cells to vibrate in response, producing their own faint sound known as an otoacoustic emission. When hearing loss exceeds 25-30 decibels, no sounds will be produced.

Contact your San Francisco area audiologist for more information on hearing tests or to schedule an appointment.