Hearing Tests

What is a hearing test?

Hearing tests evaluate your child’s response to sounds to determine if they have hearing loss.

The first step is a hearing screening, which is a routine part of many well-child visits. During the screening, a clinician will observe your child’s responses to sounds. If they see signs of hearing loss, the clinician will refer your child to a hearing doctor known as an audiologist for a hearing test.

Before evaluating your child’s hearing, the audiologist will ask about their health history, including infections and if any family members have hearing loss.

Why are hearing tests important?

Hearing loss is the most common developmental disorder in newborns. Even mild hearing loss can interfere with a child’s ability to learn language and social skills. As soon as they know a child has hearing loss, clinicians can intervene to improve the child’s hearing and help the child develop the strongest possible communication skills.

What happens during a hearing test?

There are many different types of hearing tests. Some are appropriate for children of any age while others are specific to the child's age and stage of development.

Hearing tests for newborns

There are two primary types of hearing screening methods for newborns that may be used alone or together.

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) uses electrodes (wires) attached with adhesive to the baby's scalp. The test measures the brain's activity in response to the sounds. This test is painless and quick.
  • Evoked otoacoustic emissions (EOAE) is a test that uses a tiny, flexible plug that is inserted into the baby's ear. This test is painless and is usually completed within a few minutes, while the baby sleeps.

Of these two tests, most audiologists prefer the ABR test because it is more likely than the EOAE test to detect a certain type of hearing loss called auditory dys-synchrony.

Hearing tests for infants

The same tests are typically used for newborns and infants. In addition, the audiologist may use a behavioral test.

  • Behavioral audiometry is a screening test that allows the audiologist to observe an infant's behavior in response to certain sounds.

Hearing tests for toddlers

Audiologists use a test known as play audiometry to test toddlers’ hearing. The test uses an electrical machine to transmit sounds at different volumes and pitches into the child's ears.

Hearing tests for older children

  • Pure tone audiometry uses an electrical machine that produces sounds at different volumes and pitches in the child's ears.
  • Tympanometry, also called impedance audiometry, can be performed in most doctors' offices to help determine how the middle ear is functioning.