During your hearing test your audiologist will take a thorough history, examine your ear drums, test your hearing and give you a full explanation of the results.
There are three essential aspects to a full hearing test. The first is an air conduction test which identifies the softest sounds you can hear and is performed using a regular set of headphones. The second essential aspect is bone conduction testing. This test uses a headphone that vibrates the skull bones to deliver sound directly to the inner ear and localises the hearing loss to either the inner or middle ear. The final essential component is speech testing which examines your ability to understand words. It is important in confirming the accuracy of the previous tests as well as to see if hearing aids are likely to be helpful. Speech tests can also identify hearing problems beyond the ear, in the nerves of the auditory system.
Sometimes you may be offered a hearing screening test. This is an air conduction test only and is used to determine if you have normal hearing (a pass result) or hearing loss (a fail result). In the case of a fail result you will be referred on for full Audiological assessment.
Vestibular testing is often requested for people who are experiencing vertigo, dizziness or imbalance. Like a hearing test it primarily looks at inner ear function, but unlike a hearing test the emphasis is on the vestibular system – the part of the balance system which is located in the inner ear.
The vestibular system is embedded in the temporal bone of the skull – the hardest bone of the human body. For this reason it is impossible to test the function of the vestibular system directly. Your vestibular audiologist will stimulate your inner ear either through sound, head movement or temperature changes, but will take measurements from your eyes, your neck muscles or your cheek muscles. They will probably ask questions about your symptoms and may do a hearing test.
The range of tests will depend on the centre you attend, the symptoms you report and what your doctor has requested, so different people will have different vestibular tests.
Often people who are experiencing vertigo or dizziness are very worried about their vestibular test. Try not to be. Most vestibular tests shouldn’t make you feel dizzy at all. There are no surprises in vestibular testing either. Your audiologist will let you know exactly what they will be doing and what you can expect during each test. For the few tests that can make you dizzy, the more anxious you are the worse the dizziness is likely to be, so try to focus on your breathing and relax.