Audiometry, a vital branch of audiology, is a diagnostic tool used to assess an individual’s hearing ability. This test measures how well a person can hear sounds at various frequencies and intensities, providing valuable information about their hearing health.
For people working in industries that expose them to high volumes, audiometry testing is essential to monitor the long-term health of their hearing.
In this blog, I’ll talk more about audiometry, with a focus on the requirements for audiometric testing at workplaces in Australia.
The basics of audiometry
Audiometry is the gold standard for assessing hearing. This test is conducted by an audiologist, an expert in hearing-related issues. It is essential for anyone experiencing hearing problems or regularly exposed to loud noises, as it can detect hearing loss and guide appropriate interventions.
Hearing loss is a common issue that can affect individuals of all ages. Early detection is crucial because untreated hearing loss can lead to a wide range of problems, including communication difficulties, social isolation, and decreased quality of life. Audiometry helps identify the type, degree and configuration of hearing loss, enabling healthcare providers to recommend suitable treatments.
How does audiometry work?
A thorough audiometry test has several separate components. Before the actual test, the audiologist will collect a detailed medical and hearing history. This information helps identify potential causes of hearing loss and guides the testing process.
The audiologist may examine the patient’s ear canal and eardrum in a procedure called an otoscopic examination, using an otoscope to rule out any physical obstructions or infections that could affect the test results.
The core of the audiometry test is pure-tone audiometry. It involves the use of an audiometer to measure a person’s hearing thresholds. The patient wears headphones and listens for various tones at different frequencies and volumes. They signal when they hear a sound by pressing a button or raising their hand.
In addition to pure tones, speech audiometry assesses the ability to understand and repeat spoken words. The patient listens to words at different volumes to determine their speech reception threshold.
Tympanometry is a test to assess the mobility of the eardrum and the function of the middle ear. It can help identify conditions such as otitis media or tympanic membrane perforation.
If necessary, bone conduction testing may also be conducted to determine if hearing loss is caused by problems in the inner ear (sensorineural hearing loss) or in the outer or middle ear (conductive hearing loss).
Understanding the results
Audiometry test results are typically plotted on an audiogram, which gives a visual representation of a person’s hearing thresholds. On the audiogram, frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and intensity is measured in decibels (dB). The higher the frequency and the lower the decibel level at which a person can hear a sound, the better their hearing.
People with normal hearing can hear sounds at or below 25 dB across all frequencies.
Individuals with mild hearing loss may struggle to hear sounds between 26-40 dB.
Moderate hearing loss ranges from 41-70 dB. In this range, communication difficulties become more significant.
Those with severe hearing loss have difficulty hearing sounds in the 71-90 dB range.
Profound hearing loss is when a person cannot hear sounds above 90 dB.
Why regular audiometry testing is important
Regular audiometry tests are essential because hearing loss can occur gradually, making it difficult for individuals to notice the changes. Routine audiometry tests can detect problems early and enable timely interventions.
Audiometry tests are essential for various groups, including:
Children, as hearing problems can significantly impact a child’s ability to learn and develop speech and language skills. Regular audiometry tests are critical to ensure that any hearing issues are identified and addressed promptly.
Those working in certain professions, such as construction or manufacturing, which expose workers to high levels of noise. Regular audiometry tests are essential for monitoring and protecting the hearing health of these individuals.
Older adults can experience hearing loss over time due to ageing, noise exposure or medical conditions. Audiometry tests help diagnose and manage these issues.
Audiometric testing in Australian workplaces
In Australia, occupational health and safety regulations require employers to implement hearing conservation programs in workplaces where employees are exposed to hazardous noise levels.
These regulations are in place to protect the hearing health of workers and ensure that employers take proactive measures to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
For workers who are frequently required to use personal protective equipment to protect them from the risk of hearing loss, audiogram assessment is recommended. The Work Health and Safety Regulations state that testing should be completed within three months of the employee commencing their role, and then at least every two years following.
Audiogram assessment not only helps meet your legal obligations, but also supports the overall health and safety of your team.
Key aspects of these regulations include:
Noise exposure assessment
Employers are required to assess the noise exposure levels in the workplace. This involves measuring noise levels and identifying employees at risk of hearing damage due to noise exposure.
Regular audiometric testing is mandated for employees exposed to hazardous noise levels. These tests are typically conducted at the start of employment and at regular intervals thereafter to monitor any changes in hearing.
Employers must provide suitable hearing protection to employees exposed to hazardous noise levels. This includes earplugs and earmuffs.
Training and education
Employers are responsible for educating workers about the risks of noise exposure, the proper use of hearing protection devices, and the importance of participating in audiometric testing.
Employers are required to maintain records of noise exposure assessments, audiometric test results, and other relevant information related to hearing conservation.
Review and action
If audiometric tests reveal that an employee’s hearing has deteriorated, employers must take action to reduce the risk of further hearing loss, including reassessment of noise exposure levels and the effectiveness of hearing protection measures.
Audiometric testing should be conducted by qualified professionals, and audiologists play a crucial role in ensuring the accuracy and compliance of these tests in the workplace.
Audiometry is a fundamental tool for evaluating hearing health and complying with occupational health and safety regulations. Regular testing can detect hearing loss early, enabling timely interventions and improving the quality of life for individuals – particularly those exposed to hazardous levels of noise through work.
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Marshall Thurlow is Director and Founder of Orion Marketing Pty Ltd. He is a digital marketer with expertise in SEO, website design, content marketing and project management. With over 15 years of experience spanning government, not-for-profit and the private sector, he is well equipped to lead teams to success.