Perhaps it’s becoming more difficult to hear conversation in a restaurant or with family and friends. Or maybe your primary care provider has suggested you see an audiologist. If you think you may have hearing issues, it’s a good idea to have your hearing examined. What happens at a hearing test? There are several stages to the exam to diagnose any hearing loss.

The physical examination

Plan on spending about an hour at the audiologist’s office for this appointment. The tests themselves will take about a half-hour and then you’ll discuss the results.

Your audiologist will want to physically examine your ears and will ask about your medical history. The physical exam checks for any irregularities, as well as earwax blockages or infections. The audiologist discusses any medications you are taking and whether they may affect hearing. It’s a good idea to bring along a copy of your medical history. Also, write down any questions you may have and consider taking a friend along for support.

The hearing tests

Audiologists can perform a number of hearing tests. These are the most common: the pure-tone (audiometry) test, the speech (whisper) test and the tuning fork test.

The most familiar is the pure-tone test. It involves wearing headphones in a soundproof room and identifying sounds and pitches heard in each ear. Each tone plays at a different volume and frequency to check your range of hearing.

The speech test is very simple and can be performed in person or may be recorded. You hear several words spoken very softly and repeat them back to the examiner. This determines how well you recognize words without visual information.

The tuning fork test checks for conductive or nerve issues. The fork is placed behind your ear or on your head and is tapped to produce a tone. You describe how that tone sounds to you in each ear.

The hearing test results

When the tests are completed, your audiologist will discuss the results with you. There will be a detailed print out describing the results of each test; this charts where your results fall within normal and abnormal ranges. The test results, evaluated together, allow the audiologist to make a comprehensive report and pinpoint your exact hearing issues.

The audiologist then works with you to find the best solution to any hearing loss. These options may include earwax removal, hearing aids or surgery.

You may feel a bit apprehensive about an appointment with an audiologist, but once you know what happens at a hearing test and its benefits, you will be ready to hear the results. Because hearing loss usually is gradual, it is a good idea to schedule a hearing test if you haven’t had one in several decades or if you’re over 55.