Noticing the symptoms of hearing loss and deciding how to approach treatment can be a daunting time full of countless questions. Everything from choosing who to consult and learning about treatment options can be unknown territory, and it helps to know what to expect.

Hearing tests are routine and are often recommended even if there are no noticeable symptoms of hearing loss. They are easy and painless, involve only a few steps, and are a necessary part of the process. Hearing tests help your audiologist understand exactly what type and severity of hearing loss you may have, so that they can determine the best type of treatment.

Because hearing tests are so important, it’s good to be prepared in order to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Writing down your symptoms ahead of time can reduce the possibility of forgetting a key detail during the hearing test. Asking family members or friends if they’ve noticed any changes in your behavior can be useful as well and help your audiologist get a better understanding of your hearing loss. You could even bring a family member or friend along with you to the hearing test to help remember any information that the audiologist needs. Taking note of any key medical information, such as past injuries or any medications that you take, can help save time as well. Also make sure to write down any questions that you want to ask your audiologist – if you are confused about anything, this is the best time to ask!

During the hearing test itself, you will likely be given headphones and asked to listen to tones at different pitches and volumes and give an indication when you’re able to hear them. You may also be given a test that evaluates how well you can understand speech at different volumes and involves repeating back words or phrases.

Another possible part of a hearing test is tympanometry – a way of testing acoustic reflexes. During this test a soft plug will be placed in the ear in order to test the middle ear muscle’s reflexive responses. Tuning fork tests, which involve the striking of a metal instrument, could be administered as well.

After the test is done, your audiologist should go over the results with you. The results will be presented on a graph called an audiogram, which represents what level of volume and pitch you can hear. The horizontal axis of this graph shows frequency (pitch) while the vertical axis shows volume (loudness). Although your audiologist should be able to explain the graph to you, knowing how to read an audiogram yourself can make it easier to understand the information.

Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and volume is measured in decibels (dB). For reference, someone without hearing loss will appear on the audiogram between -10 and 25 dB. This means that the softest sound that they can hear is within that range. The range for mild hearing loss is 26 – 40 dB, moderate hearing loss is 41 – 70 dB, severe hearing loss is 71 – 90 dB, and profound hearing loss is anything above 91 db.

Once you know what level of severity and type of hearing loss you have, you and your audiologist can begin discussing treatment possibilities. Different forms of treatment, such as earwax removal, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and surgical procedures are recommended based on the results of a hearing test. Putting off addressing hearing loss will only worsen the severity and make it harder to treat, so it’s important to schedule a hearing test and start preparing as soon as you notice the symptoms.