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Diagnosis of Hearing Loss

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. As part of your diagnosis, your doctor may try to determine the following:

  • Location of the problem
  • Degree of loss
  • Cause—It is not always possible to identify the exact cause of hearing loss. If a cause can be found, this information can help guide treatment.

Depending on the type of hearing loss you have, the doctor may order tests such as:

  • Audiometric tests —A doctor or an audiologist (hearing specialist) may perform these tests. The hearing tests involve listening to tones in a soundproof room and reporting whether you hear them or not. You wear earphones and listen to sounds sent to one ear and then the other. A range of tones is repeated at different loudness levels to determine when you can hear them. You also listen to words at different levels to determine when you can understand them.
  • Tympanometry —A special machine introduces air pressure in the ear canal, which makes the eardrum move. This test measures the pressure in the middle ear and the movement of the eardrum.
  • Acoustic reflex —This test measures the response of a small ear muscle that moves when there is a loud sound. Lack of this movement or the loudness at which the movement occurs provides important information about hearing loss.
  • Static acoustic measures —These measures estimate the amount of air in the ear canal. They help detect a perforated eardrum or if ear ventilation tubes are open.
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Auditory brainstem response —To measure electrical response in the brain to sounds. This test helps determine the possible location of certain hearing problems. It is frequently used with babies.
  • Otoacoustic emissions —These emissions are faint sounds produced by the cochlea when sound stimulates it. Although people cannot hear these sounds, they can be picked up and measured by a small probe placed in the ear canal. These emissions are produced by people with normal hearing but not by those with a certain level of hearing loss. This test can detect blockage or damage in different parts of the ear. It is often used with babies.

Conductive hearing loss. ENT Health—American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/conductive-hearing-loss. Accessed August 17, 2017.

Hearing loss. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Hearing-Loss.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed August 17, 2017.

Hearing loss in children. Screening and Diagnosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hearingloss/screening.html. Updated February 18, 2015. Accessed August 17, 2017.

Isaacson JE, Vora NM. Differential diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss. Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(6):1125-1132.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115342/Sudden-sensorineural-hearing-loss. Updated May 27, 2017. Accessed August 17, 2017.

Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 9/17/2014