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Oxford Children's Hospital

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Hearing tests

When a child has a hearing loss, they may not hear certain sounds. This might be particular pitches or volume. Hearing can be affected by problems in:

  • outer parts of the ear (ear lobe and ear canal)
  • middle parts of the ear (ear drum, middle ear bones and Eustachian tube)
  • inner parts of the ear (cochlea and the hearing nerve).

One of the most common causes of hearing loss in children is glue ear. This is when fluid or congestion builds up behind the ear drum, preventing sound reaching the inner parts of the ear. Usually glue ear clears up by itself in time, but some children may require treatment.

Children's hearing is tested in different ways depending on their age and ability. The tests all aim to find the quietest sounds that your child can hear.

We attempt to look in the ears of all of children at their appointment, depending on their level of co-operation. We may also try to check the function of their eardrum and middle ear with a quick pressure test. This measures for any congestion (as found in glue ear).

Types of test

Pure Tone Audiogram

This involves pressing a button when a sound is heard, and listening for the very quietest tones through a pair of headphones. Children may be able to perform a test similar to an adult hearing test from about six years of age.

Play Audiometry

From about two and a half to three years of age, we may encourage children to play a game to test their hearing. They wait for a sound and then perform an action in response, for instance, placing a hoop on a stick or a man in a bus.

Visual Reinforcement Audiometry

Younger children from about seven to eight months are tested by two audiologists. We play them sounds, either in the room with speakers or into their ears using small insert earphones. If they turn towards a sound they are rewarded by a light-up toy.

Otoacoustic Emissions and Auditory Brainstem Response

Otoacoustic Emissions testing on a baby

Otoacoustic Emissions are reflections recorded in response to a clicking sound played into the ear through a tip. Auditory Brainstem Responses are measurements recorded from the brain in response to certain sounds played through headphones. We can test babies when they are quiet or sleeping.

(Photograph courtesy of Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust).

Contact us

If you have any concerns about your child's hearing, please speak first to your child's GP, nurse or Health Visitor, who can refer your child to us if necessary.