Test: Hearing Tests

Your doctor may recommend hearing tests if you have difficulty hearing speech or if you work in a noisy environment. He or she may perform preliminary tests in the surgery and may refer you to a hearing specialist for others. Some tests determine the type of hearing loss, while others assess how well you can hear sounds of varying frequency and volume. Babies are given a hearing screening test soon after birth; further hearing tests are carried out during childhood as part of routine developmental assessment and whenever hearing impairment is suspected (see Hearing tests in children).

Preliminary tests

A tuning fork is used to distinguish conductive hearing loss, resulting from a disorder of the outer or middle ear, from sensorineural loss, which is caused by a disorder of the inner ear or of the nerves that transmit hearing to the brain.

Weber test

A vibrating tuning fork is held against your forehead. If you have conductive hearing loss, the sound will seem louder in the more affected ear. In sensorineural loss, it is louder in the less affected ear.

Rinne test

A vibrating tuning fork is held near your ear and then against a bone behind the ear. If it sounds louder in the second position, you have conductive hearing loss. If it is louder in the first position, either the ear is healthy or the hearing loss is sensorineural.


Detailed information about the movements of the eardrum and bones of the middle ear in response to sound can be obtained by tympanometry. The test is used to establish the cause of conductive hearing loss and is often used in children because it does not rely on responses from the person being tested.

During the test

A probe containing a tone generator, a microphone, and an air pump is placed into your ear canal. Sounds are played while the air pressure in the ear is varied.

How the test works

The sounds bounce off the eardrum and are picked up by a microphone. The pattern of reflected sound varies at different air pressures and shows whether the eardrum is moving normally.


This test measures how loud a sound has to be for you to hear it. Sounds of varying frequency are transmitted to one ear at a time through headphones. For each frequency, the volume is increased until you hear it, and the results are recorded. The test is repeated with a speaker held against a bone behind the ear.

During the test

You will be asked to press a button when you hear a sound in either ear. The softest sound that you can hear at each frequency will be recorded.


Audiometry trace

This trace is from a person with normal hearing in the left ear and sensorineural hearing loss in the right. At higher frequencies, the right ear can detect sound only if the sound level is much higher than normal.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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