How Testing is Conducted for Tinnitus
Tinnitus is characterized by noises in the ear that don't come from an external source. They can include whistling, ringing, crackling, popping, humming and various other sounds. Not only can tinnitus affect your hearing, but it can also affect you emotionally. You might find that it makes it difficult to sleep and that the sounds bother you throughout the day. While there is no definitive way to diagnose tinnitus, there are several tests that audiologists can carry out to diagnose it and determine the best treatment. Here are some of the tests that can help to diagnose tinnitus and possibly find a cause.
Tinnitus is often linked to hearing loss, so testing your hearing is one of the first steps if you suspect that you have tinnitus. There are several tests used to check your hearing health. The audiologist will start with a physical examination of your ears, which helps to pick up on anything like excess ear wax or an infection, which could cause hearing problems and temporary tinnitus symptoms. There are then a number of tests for measuring what you can hear.
Pure tone testing: this test measures your hearing across different frequencies and volumes and plots the results on a graph (an audiogram). Sounds at different pitches and different sound levels are played, usually using headphones or earbuds, and the patient indicates when they can hear a sound.
Middle ear testing: checks the functioning of your tympanic membrane (eardrum) and the conduction bones to check the health of the middle ear. To test how well your eardrum functions, a small probe will blow air into your ear to see how it moves. Sound is used to test the muscle that protects your ear from loud sounds.
Speech understanding: a test that measures how well someone can understand speech in both quiet and noisy environments. Hearing loss often affects the ability to hear and understand speech, which can make it difficult to socialize and do many everyday things.
Otoacoustic emissions: this test uses a very sensitive microphone, which measures the movement of tiny hair cells in the middle ear.
Another way to check tinnitus symptoms is by asking the patient to move in different ways and observe if the tinnitus symptoms change. You might be asked to move your eyes, clench your jaw, move your neck or move your arms and legs. Any changes could help to indicate whether there is an underlying cause to the tinnitus, which could possibly be treated to help relieve the tinnitus too. Tinnitus can be connected to a variety of other conditions, from head injuries to Meniere's disease.
Perception of tinnitus sounds
Your audiologist can perform some tests that help to understand how you are hearing the tinnitus sounds. These can include pitch match testing, loudness match testing, and tinnitus questionnaires.
A pitch matching test is designed to help find the frequency of the sound that the patient is hearing, which can help to determine the best treatment. Like many hearing tests, this is a subjective test that relies on responses from the patient. A loudness matching test serves a similar purpose, assisting with finding the volume level of the sound the patient hears. A tinnitus questionnaire can help to collect more information. It will ask you about how you perceive your tinnitus symptoms to help your audiologist understand it.
After carrying out testing for tinnitus, the next thing to explore is the possible treatment options. For many people, this will mean treating their hearing loss. This often means the use of hearing aids, which requires a hearing aid fitting to choose the right devices. There are also hearing aids and wearable sound devices that are designed to help treat tinnitus by masking the sound or by helping with habitualization. The use of sound machines can be helpful to mask tinnitus, especially at night. Tinnitus retraining therapy is also an option for people with tinnitus, combining the use of sound devices and counseling to help reduce anxiety and get the patient used to the tinnitus sound.
If you think that you might have tinnitus, seeing an audiologist will help you to investigate your symptoms. A series of tests can help to determine why your symptoms might be occurring and the best way to address the problem. Find out about testing for tinnitus and learn more about The Center for Audiology by calling the Houston office at 713-255-0035 or Pearland at 713-800-5050.