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Getting a Hearing Test

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 20 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Hearing Test Speech Loss Disruption

When a child shows signs of a speech disorder or inefficiency one of the first steps towards finding out the cause is to carry out a hearing test. These tests help to rule out the possibility that a child’s speech has been affected by some level of hearing loss or disruption. Hearing tests may be carried out in infants and young children, as well as with the GP and via more formal audiometry. “Do It Yourself” hearing tests are also available online and on the phone.

Hearing Tests in Infants and Young Children

The NHS runs a Newborn Hearing Screening Programme which currently offers screenings to the parents of 99% of infants born in England. These Automated Otoacoustic Emission (AOAE) tests are carried out either by hearing screeners of health visitors and consist of small earpieces with microphones placed in the baby’s ear. Tiny clicks are sent to the inner ear and in children with normal hearing an echo is produced and the earpiece picks up this response. A second screening may be required if a baby:
  • Had fluid or another temporary blockage in his or her ears.
  • Was very fussy or upset during the screening.
  • Had to cope with distracting background noise during the screening.

Hearing Tests with the GP

If hearing problems must be investigated in older children, bringing them to the GP is usually the parents’ starting point. GPs may not be equipped with formal audiometry (hearing test) equipment but there are still tests they can carry out. These include:
  • Whisper test, in which the GP will sit behind the child and whisper words or numbers.
  • Rinne test, with tuning forks to test air and bone conduction in auditory and external canals.
  • Weber test, during which tuning fork is placed at forehead and hearing in each ear described.

Formal Audiometry

When individuals are referred for formal audiometry it means that a machine called an audiometer is required to better analyse any hearing loss and any pattern of hearing loss. An audiometer plays a series of tones which individuals hear through headsets. The volume of the tones are adjusted in each ear, growing softer and louder, and the individual raises his or her hand or pressing a button when (s)he can hear them. These tests are repeated multiple times on each ear and the results are plotted on a graph to help produce any pattern results. Other tests which may also be carried out include:
  • Speech audiometry, in which lists of words are read to or played to individuals.
  • Tympanometry, which measures stiffness of the eardrum and middle ear function.
  • Electrophysiological tests, to help test electrical output of cochlea and a specific cranial nerve.
  • Acoustic reflex testing, which tests the muscle and resulting eardrum movement.

“Do It Yourself” Hearing Tests

In addition to hearing tests carried out by health professionals there are also a few methods of “do it yourself” hearing tests that can be carried out at home. Of course the whisper test can be conducted, as well as observing if children turn when their name is called or surprise, loud noises are made near them. Simple hearing tests can also be taken by telephone from the National Hearing Services (0845 600 5555) and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (0844 800 3838). The RNID also offers an online hearing test for those able to use speakers with their computers.

Getting a hearing test is a necessary step in ruling out hearing loss as a cause of a speech disorder or disruption. Hearing tests are available to infants and young children, with your GP, via formal audiometry and even at home with “do it yourself” methods.

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