How is the pure-tone test for hearing loss performed?

David M. Vernick, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
For pure-tone testing, the audiologist (a health professional who assesses hearing and balance, as well as fits and dispenses hearing aid) uses an electronic machine called an audiometer to expose each ear, in turn, to sounds of different frequencies and decibel levels. The purpose is to identify the frequencies at which you have trouble hearing and how much hearing loss you have in those frequencies -- in other words, how difficult it is for you to hear high-pitched or low-pitched sounds, or both.

The audiologist will probably start with middle-frequency (pitch of sound) tones of 1,000 hertz and then gradually go up to high-frequency tones of 8,000 hertz, and finally test the low-frequency tones down to 250 hertz. The range of tones tested is roughly equivalent to a span of low to high notes on a piano. After identifying the lowest decibel level at which you can hear a tone of a certain frequency, the audiologist moves on to another frequency tone. The results are plotted on an audiogram, a graph that shows how well each ear hears across the frequency spectrum. This graph is as individual as a signature -- it's your personal pattern of hearing.

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