The audiometer is used by audiology centers and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists for measuring hearing loss. It is usually one of the methods performed as part of an audiometry test. Both hardware and software-based audiometers are now available from various providers.
The hardware-based version is a simple piece of equipment that generates a pure tone at varying intensities that can be controlled. The subject hears the tones in one ear at a time through headphones. Every time a tone is heard, the subject pushes a feedback button.
The device can be a standalone machine or hooked up to a computer that controls the output and records all the feedback. These machines are made using different kinds of technologies, depending on the intended usage. Some are portable, others handhelds, and still others may be full-fledged systems that are meant to be used in one place. All of them are either bone-conduction or air-conduction audiometers.
The software-based device generates the same tone that is heard and responded to subjects in pretty much the same way. The only difference is that the tones in this case are prerecorded sounds stored in the computer. The audio output from the computer’s sound card is sent to the headphones.
Audiometers built as a physical machine are more expensive, but provide the high degree of accuracy that hospitals, researchers and audiology centers need. Regular calibration is still essential to ensure the tone heard and the level shown in the display match each other. Proper calibration is also necessary to ensure a global standard for testing and measurement of hearing levels.
Audiometry software installed on desktops or laptops can be used at home by anyone, and it is relatively affordable. It is more difficult to calibrate the software, which also means that accuracy is hard to achieve. It is, however, still good enough to allow a subject to self-test and determine if their hearing is normal or needs medical treatment.
The purpose of this arrangement, regardless of whether it is software or a physical device, is to pinpoint the exact audio level at which the subject stops responding. This allows the physician to diagnose the problem, if any, and provide treatment. Apart from actual ear cleaning to clear obstructions, the subject may also need to take ear drops. If the problem is more serious, a hearing-aid or surgery (or both) may be needed.
Another major application for audiometers is industrial audiometric testing. The actual process is pretty much the same as the one described above. One of the key differences is the fact that patients don’t visit the clinic. Instead, a mobile lab with the required equipment and technicians comes to the industrial facility for testing the hearing levels of workers who are constantly exposed to noise.
The results obtained in these industrial tests are not simply meant to evaluate the hearing ability of workers from a health point of view. It is also used to find out whether the facility requires additional noise-muffling systems. Sometimes, these checkups are provided under group health plans. In any case, an audiometer used for industrial applications must be calibrated perfectly to within a small fraction of a decibel.
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