Hearing tests

Hearing tests at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) assess how well your ears are working.

Your ears are very sensitive organs that allow you to hear sound. Sound travels through your ear to your brain via nerves. The inner ear, inside your head, is also important for balance.

If you have been having problems with your hearing or balance, hearing tests can help the doctors to find out why. If you already have hearing loss, we can find out the type and level and this may help us understand why you have it.

Your doctor may want to monitor your hearing if you have been on a type of medication that can affect your ears, such as chemotherapy or certain types of antibiotics, or if you have an illness that can affect your ears.

Some conditions can cause temporary deafness, such as glue ear, were there is a build up of sticky fluid in the ear.

What happens

Hearing tests are usually carried out by an audiologist. This is a person who is specially trained in dealing with hearing and balance problems.

They will assess how well your ears are working in several ways. The tests are usually done in a special soundproof room.


For this part of the test you will be asked to wear headphones. The audiologist will give you a button to press.

The audiometer machine produces sounds at different volumes and frequencies. Every time you hear a sound, usually a ‘beep’, you press the button.

Each ear will be tested separately.


For this test, you don’t do anything at all. A small soft plastic tube is carefully placed in the entrance to your ear. 

The machine gently changes the pressure in your ear and records how your eardrum moves. This helps the audiologists to see whether there is any fluid in your middle ear (glue ear).

Sometimes it helps to find out if you have a perforation (small hole) of the eardrum or if you have a grommet. A grommet is a plastic tube that the ENT doctors put into the eardrum if you have had glue ear.

Oto-acoustic emissions

This test looks for an echo from your ear. A small ear-piece is gently placed in the entrance to your ear, and a machine measures how well the tiny cells in your inner ear – called ‘outer hair cells’ – respond to a sound.

All you have to do is to stay quiet during the test and listen to the clicking sound.

Auditory brainstem response (ABR)

An ABR tests how your hearing nerve carries the sound signal to your brain.

For this test you will listen to sounds through headphones while sitting or lying very still. You can even go to sleep. To measure the signal some stickers are placed on your forehead and behind your ears. A computer will then record the response.

Does it hurt?

Having your hearing tested does not hurt. The audiologist will explain the tests to you in detail and you are welcome to ask questions if you want to know more. 

Let the audiologist know if something feels uncomfortable.

The audiologist will usually allow an hour to complete the various hearing tests. 


The audiologist will discuss the results with a doctor. Sometimes the doctor may ask for more tests to be carried out. The doctor or audiologist will explain the results to you on the day.

Compiled by:
Great Ormond Street Hospital
Last review date:
February 2012