It’s likely that most people in the United States have experienced pure tone audiogram tests at one time in their life. Although you may not recognize the name of this type of test, you might have memories of wearing heavy-duty headphones and listening for soft beeps, either in one ear or both ears. Pure tone audiogram tests are commonly administered throughout childhood to determine whether hearing loss has occurred.
Who Is Given A Pure Tone Audiogram Test?
Children and adults can be given this type of test. These tests are given for screening purposes and to identify potential hearing loss in people who are displaying signs of a problem. People who fail their pure tone audiogram test may be identified for audiology services to help restore hearing.
Babies as young as 6 months old can be administered this test. While older children may be given headphones to wear, younger children are put into a sound-proof booth where tones are played for them. When they hear a tone, the baby may smile, move their head, or indicate that they hear the sound in some way.
While sound field testing in a booth is useful for determining whether a patient is able to hear sound, it cannot determine whether hearing loss has occurred in one ear over the other. For this, the patient must either wear headphones or a different test must be used.
Because this test relies on the behavior of the patient to reveal whether a sound is heard, this is called a behavioral hearing test. Other types of tests measure hearing by gauging reactions to sound occurring inside the body, and thus do not rely on the behavior of the patient to be successful. These tests may be administered if the patient is not a good candidate for a pure tone audiogram test, or if more information about hearing loss is needed.
When Is a Pure Tone Audiogram Test Needed?
Parents of small children must watch for signs of potential hearing loss and tell their family physician when they have a concern. Potential signs of hearing loss in babies include:
- Does not say the words “Dada” and “Mama” by 1 year of age
- Does not turn toward sounds by 6 months of age
- Turns head toward things of interest and parents, but only if seen, not if heard
- Is not startled by loud sounds
- Does not seem to recognize parents voice by about 3 months old
In an older child, the potential signs of hearing loss include:
- Turns up the television uncomfortably loud
- Often does not hear instructions
- Asks people to repeat themselves frequently
- Does not pay attention well
- Difficulty learning
- Easily frustrated when there is background noise
- Answers inappropriately to speech
People who take this test are usually people being given routine screening (like children in school), or they are people who have complaints about diminishing hearing. Pure tone tests can be administered by general physicians or audiologists.
What Happens During a Pure Tone Audiogram Test?
During a pure tone audiogram test, the physician plays tones through speakers in the sound booth or through headphones on the patient’s ears, and either watches for a response from the patient or asks the patient to indicate when they have heard a tone. If the patient is wearing headphones, they can indicate the specific ear where the sound is being heard. If the tones are played through speakers, all sounds will be heard by both ears.
What Happens If A Patient Fails a Pure Tone Audiogram Test?
Children (especially young children) can fail pure tone audiogram tests even if they can hear. Because the test relies on the behavior of the child to indicate sound, it may not always be accurate. In addition, children frequently experience blockages (like fluid or congestion) that can negatively impact their ability to pass a pure tone audiogram test. These blockages sometimes go away on their own.
Often, a child that fails a pure tone audiogram test will be referred for more testing on a different day. If it is determined that your child has suffered hearing loss, you’ll probably find yourself talking to an audiologist about audiology services, strategies, treatments and tools that can improve your child’s hearing and/or help your child learn to live with hearing loss.
How Often Should You Get a Hearing Test?
The American Speech-Language Hearing Association recommends getting hearing screening every 10 years until you turn 50, and then getting a hearing test every 3 years thereafter. Hearing loss in children and adolescents is far more common than you may realize, with one survey of young adults revealing that over 40 percent of respondents had experienced hearing loss due to loud music within the last 6 months.
Between age 51 and 65, 25 percent of patients experience some kind of hearing loss. By age 80, around 50 percent of patients have experienced hearing loss. Catching hearing loss quickly is important. For young people, hearing loss can cause developmental delays, can impact learning and may even impact relationships.
For older adults, hearing loss can lead to social isolation, can negatively impact a career, and may even lead to problems in relationships. Use of hearing aids and audiology services can help someone who has suffered permanent hearing loss, but only if the hearing loss becomes known.
What Are the Treatments and Audiology Services for Hearing Loss?
The most common form of treatment for hearing loss (except in the case of profound hearing loss, when no sound can be heard at all) are hearing aids. Hearing aids help amplify the sound that is delivered to the ear to make normal sounds more audible. Modern hearing aids are very sophisticated in their operation. Often, the two hearing aids operate wirelessly to communicate as one seamless system. Some modern hearing aids are nearly invisible, while others are very visible.
While modern hearing aids do offer immediate relief for hearing loss, they take some getting used to. Patients suffering from hearing loss who are just now learning to manage their hearing aids may need their device to be fine-tuned to their needs. Even just wearing a new hearing aid can take adjustment, as not all hearing aids perform the same.
Other types of treatment for hearing loss depends on the type of hearing loss that has occurred. Surgeries can treat certain types of hearing loss, while therapies can help people suffering from conditions like tinnitus and noise sensitivity.
Think You’re Suffering From Hearing Loss? Seek Audiology Services
If your hearing or your child’s hearing has been damaged, contact your family’s physician for a pure tone audiogram test. Audiology services and a good hearing aid can help you manage the condition and function despite any hearing challenges you may have.
- American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Pure-Tone Testing
- American Academy of Family Physicians, Audiometry Screening and Interpretation
- American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Childhood Hearing Screening
- Kidshealth.org, Hearing Evaluation in Children
- American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Hearing Screening