Workplace Hearing Test: What to Expect and How to Interpret the Results

Do you think you might be experiencing hearing loss? Anyone can experience hearing loss and it often progresses very gradually, making it difficult to notice symptoms. Getting a baseline hearing test and following up every year is a good way to monitor for any changes in your hearing. In this article, we’ll discuss what a hearing test is, how to know if you need one, what to expect with a hearing test, how to interpret the results, and where to go to find a hearing health provider.

What is a Hearing Test?

Hearing testing will establish if you have hearing loss and its level of severity. A comprehensive hearing test will also establish what kind of hearing loss you have: sensorineural, conductive, or mixed. It will also determine if it will react well to medical treatment. Treatments for hearing loss include hearing aids, bone-anchored hearing systems, and cochlear implants. 

Do You Need a Hearing Test?

If you’ve noticed some trouble with your hearing, you might need a hearing test. And, if your hearing is normal, you could also benefit from a hearing test. For those with normal hearing, a hearing test establishes a baseline measurement of your hearing, so any potential future hearing loss can be caught.

For those who are having trouble with their hearing, signs you may need a hearing test are asking people to repeat themselves more frequently, turning the volume up on devices higher and higher, ringing in your ears (tinnitus), and difficulty distinguishing between noises. 

  • Why workplace hearing tests matter

The most important reason that workplace hearing tests matter is to catch any work-related hearing loss as early as possible. Another reason is that good hearing leads to productive workplaces. Having your employees checked annually leads to better performance. Hearing loss increases the chance of a workplace accident. And since hearing loss can happen so gradually it goes unnoticed, regular hearing tests will reduce the risk of workplace accidents. Of course, for industries with loud background noises, like construction, regular hearing tests are part of OSHA regulations. 

What to Expect in a Hearing Test

The first part of your hearing test is an extensive health history about your life, work, health, and your family’s medical history. This will help your healthcare professional determine if there is a genetic component to any potential hearing loss. Your medical history is very important because there could be a medical cause for any potential hearing loss. Allergies, the common cold, ear infections, and impacted earwax can all lead to hearing loss. Another factor is head trauma, which can cause either temporary or permanent hearing loss. Information about your job will help determine if there are any workplace-related factors to your hearing loss. After you’ve filled out the forms, your health professional will likely ask you about your symptoms, and how they are impacting your life. 

After you’re done with your health history, it’s time for the actual hearing test. Hearing tests are non-invasive and painless. You’ll likely go into a soundproofed room, so you’re not exposed to background noises from pipes or heating. Headphones or soft earbuds are worn in the sound booth and are connected to an audiometer. An audiometer is one of the instruments used to test your hearing. Depending on the type of test, you’ll listen to tones at different pitches and volumes. You’ll be talking with your health professional through your headphones and will need to focus closely on the sounds you can hear. Other tests will have you repeat back words played through your headphones. Or, you could be played words with background noise, mimicking real life. The only hearing test that might be a little more hands-on involves a special earplug that uses pressure changes and sound to test the health of your eardrum and middle ear muscles. 

How to Interpret Hearing Test Results

Hearing test results may feel a little intimidating when you first see them. Your test results will be displayed on a graph called an audiogram that shows the softest sounds you can hear at their individual pitches or frequencies. The vertical axis (up and down line) shows the volume of the sounds. The horizontal axis (the line that goes across) represents the pitch or frequency of the sound. 

Your test results will be shown, or plotted, on the graph in decibels of hearing threshold level, or dB HL.
According to Healthy Hearing, “These units are unique to hearing testing but are based on the perception of sound pressure levels across all frequencies. For each tone you heard during the test, there will be a mark on the audiogram at the appropriate decibel level. Each ear is plotted separately and represented by two different lines.” Each ear line shows its own health, and each ear line may follow the testing sounds, or the ear lines could look completely different depending on the health of each ear.

Here is how hearing loss is measured in decibels (dB) and by category. 

  • Normal hearing (0 to 25 dB HL)

  • Mild hearing loss (26 to 40 dB HL)

  • Moderate hearing loss (71 to 90 dB HL)

  • Severe hearing loss (71 to 90 dB HL)

  • Profound hearing loss (greater than 91 dB HL)

While hearing loss measured by percentages is commonly used in legal situations, it in and of itself is not an accurate measurement of hearing loss. Commonly hearing loss will occur more at some frequencies, so the percentage of hearing loss would differ from one frequency to another. Hearing loss described with percentages is not used in the medical setting. 

Where to Get a Hearing Test for the Workplace

While there are many online hearing tests, these are only a good place to start. True hearing testing needs to be administered by a health professional in a medical setting. A hearing care provider will have the necessary equipment for hearing tests, the skills and training to read the hearing test results. Make hearing health easy with BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS). Support your employees’ hearing health with hearing tests performed by our trained health professionals. With central locations in your area or close by BHS can administer hearing tests to employees on an as-needed basis, or for employees who are required to have an annual hearing test. Give your employees the highest quality of hearing care with BHS. Reach out to us today to get started.