Middle Ear Testing – What you need to know

Hearing loss occurs in a variety of people, and for many different reasons. Problems in the middle ear, however, often cause hearing changes in children aged 3 to 5. Fortunately, there are specific tests designed to diagnose middle ear problems. This then gives hearing professionals an idea of where to start with treatment.

Three parts of the ear

While the human ear is made up of many small components, it has three main parts. These include the outer, middle, and inner ear. All three sections play a role in hearing, but each one is unique. Sound first enters the ear through the outer ear via the ear lobe and auditory canal. Small bones in the middle ear, known as ossicles, receive the sound waves and vibrate. These vibrations are turned into nerve impulses in the inner ear and sent to the brain for processing.

Types of middle ear testing

Hearing loss can occur as a result of problems in any ear part, but there are specific tests designed to determine how well the middle ear is functioning. These include tympanometry, acoustic reflex measures, and static acoustic impedance.

  • Tympanometry – This test measures the movement of the eardrum. A small probe is inserted into the ear, and a small amount of air is pushed through it. The air flow is mapped on a graph, helping an audiologist know whether the eardrum moves too much, too little, too stiffly, or if it is perforated.
  • Acoustic reflex measures – In a normal ear, a tiny muscle in the ear reflexively constricts when exposed to loud sounds. The strength of the reflex indicates whether or not there is any hearing loss. A small probe introduces sound into the ear, and the reflex is measured by another device. Generally, the stronger the reflex, the better the hearing.
  • Static acoustic impedance – This test measures air flow through the ear canal. It indicates whether or not there is a blockage that is preventing proper flow, or if there is fluid behind the eardrum. For those individuals who have had tubes placed in their ears to prevent ear infections, this test can determine whether or not the tubes are blocked.

How to choose the best middle ear test

All of these tests can be administered by a hearing professional, such as an audiologist. She will determine which test is most appropriate, based on the individual patient and the symptoms presented. If you experience any kind of hearing changes, it’s important to schedule a hearing test as soon as possible. Many causes of hearing loss can be treated, and permanent hearing damage can often be prevented.

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