The single most essential step in finding the right hearing aid begins before you even start shopping. It’s the hearing test, an audiologist-administered exam that determines the severity and type of hearing loss you or a loved one might be experiencing.

And though it can sound daunting, the test itself shouldn’t be a cause for anxiety. Instead, a well-administered exam can help you answer some crucial questions and put you on the path towards better hearing.

To help you prepare for a hearing test, here are some commonly asked questions from test participants:

What does a hearing test really measure? Hearing tests look for the amount of sound a person can hear via their inner ear. During the hearing process, sound waves hit the inner ear as vibrations, triggering nerves to send signals to the brain, which interprets the noise. With hearing loss, those waves don’t reach your brain as effectively, often due to difficulties within the inner ear or the nerves transmitting signals to the brain. A hearing test can diagnose how effectively sound is traveling through your inner ear by measuring a variety of factors, which, when combined, present a portrait of your current level of hearing ability.

How does a hearing test work? A hearing test often consists of a series of exams conducted by a trained audiologist. Among the most common types of hearing exams are: 

Hearing a tone: Typically an audiologist will transmit a sound tone set at multiple pitches (how high or low the sound seems to your brain) to study how you hear at different frequencies.

Hearing a whisper: An audiologist will often test your ability to hear spoken speech by speaking (or playing a recording of someone else speaking) at different volume levels. They may also have you repeat words back to them to test your perception.

Testing your brain’s response to sound: Hearing tests frequently include an exam that studies the electrical stimulation within the brain to sound waves, which helps audiologists determine how much sound information your brain is receiving.

A typical hearing test takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete. Hearing tests can cost anything from $0 to $150 but are often—although not always—covered by insurance. Check with your health insurance provider to determine your coverage. If there are out-of-pocket costs, Costco provides hearing tests free of charge.

What’s an audiogram, and how do I read it? An audiogram is the series of graphic results that are given to you after you complete your hearing test, and which are also used to program hearing aids, should you need them. You’ll receive one audiogram which shows results for both your ears, graphed independently of each other so you can see how each ear responds to sound.

Make sure you ask your audiologist for help interpreting your audiogram results. Audiograms show a variety of data in a line graph format, with the pitch (how high or low a sound seems to your brain) graphed vertically and the intensity (or volume of a sound) graphed horizontally.

You’ll also find that audiograms typically have a score for your ability to recognize spoken words, too, which is listed separately.

Audiograms are essential components of a hearing test. Make sure you’re confident that you fully understand your results before leaving your audiologist. You may also ask the audiologist to explain what spectrum of hearing loss you’re experiencing, which will help in determining if a hearing aid is right for you (or if your type of hearing loss can be improved by a hearing aid at all.)

Be sure to get a copy of your test. This is your healthcare information so they are legally required to give you a copy and you will need it to shop around.  

How important are hearing tests? A hearing test is a vital step in determining whether you have hearing loss and, if so, how to treat it. It’s a relatively quick process that can result in crucial information about your health.

Too many hearing loss sufferers delay receiving a hearing test. “Every hearing health professional is familiar with the statistics that show a delay of seven to 10 years or more between the time an older person first suspects a hearing loss and professional help is sought,” notes audiologist Dr. Arlene Carson.

Yet once administered, hearing tests can equip a hearing loss sufferer with important information that can later be used to properly program hearing aids and inform doctors about the current state of their hearing.

Who should conduct your test? If you suspect that you may be experiencing hearing loss, ask your regular doctor or someone else you trust for a recommendation of a local audiologist. Look for a local clinic where you can get a complete test with personal service. Above all, though, make sure you choose someone who makes you comfortable and is open, honest, and willing to tackle any questions you may have.

Any questions? Please call Embrace Hearing at (888) 929-9555 for help.