Tympanometry Testing: Diagnostic Hearing Tests

Tympanometry is a test that audiologists perform as one of the basic tests for hearing loss in children aged 3 to 5. It’s also a test that is given to adults who present symptoms of hearing loss involving the middle ear.

What Is Tympanometry Testing?

Before we get into the definition of tympanometry testing, let’s do a quick review of the anatomy of the ear. The ear is made of three parts, the inner, middle, and outer ear. When there is a problem in the middle ear, the inner ear can’t receive sound from the outer ear. Audiologists sometimes do tests of how well the middle ear works, including static acoustic measures, acoustic reflex measures, and tympanometry.

Tympanometry assesses how well the eardrum moves. The audiologist positions a small probe, which looks a little like a headphone, into each ear. There is a small pump attached to each probe that pushes air into each ear. While the person getting the test sits still (which may be a challenge for our 3- to 5-year-old patients), the audiologist gets a series of readings in the form of a graph.

The changes of air pressure in the test may give the person being tested a sensation similar to taking off and landing in a jet plane. It doesn’t hurt, but it is noticeable and can be surprising to children.

Once the test is done, the audiologist can read the graph and determine whether the eardrum of each ear has normal flexibility, or is too stiff, or has a hole in it. The graph will also indicate whether the ear has fluid in it or there is wax buildup in the ear canal. The graph also can indicate infection.

When is Tympanometry Testing Needed?

Audiologists use tympanometry to detect or rule out several middle ear conditions, including:

  • A middle ear infection,
  • Fluid in the middle ear, from infection, or from swimming or showering,
  • Dysfunction of the Eustachian tubes, or
  • A hole in the eardrum.
Tympanometry Test

Audiologists are particularly likely to perform this test on children who are suspected of having otitis media, inflammation caused by a middle ear infection. Adults get this test when they present symptoms of middle ear infection or when they come in for their first hearing evaluation.

Tympanometry is also part of the medical clearance process for getting hearing aids. Since a hearing aid could make a middle ear infection worse, it is important to check for otitis media before fitting the hearing aid. The most common condition to show up in tympanometry testing, however, is fluid behind the eardrum. This problem is usually easy for the ENT to treat.

While you have fluid in your ear or ears, you cannot wear hearing aids. The audiologist, however, can work with your ENT to find the best hearing correction possible.

Some Frequently Asked Questions About Tympanometry

Many parents have questions about tympanometry testing for their children. Older children, teenagers, and adults have questions, too. Here are some of the questions Harbor Audiology hearing specialists most often answer about this diagnostic technique.

Does tympanometry ever hurt?

Sometimes patients who have an active infection of the middle ear experience pain during tympanometry. Children invariably let us know about this, and adults should immediately let us know if the test is causing pain, too.

How can I get my child to sit still for the tympanometry test?

Let us handle this issue. Nearly all children can be made comfortable enough to sit still long enough for the test.

Can I talk during my tympanometry test?

The muscles lining your ear canal move to reduce the sound of your own voice when you start talking. This is a reflex reaction, and it changes the amount of air flowing through your ear canal. Since this interferes with measurement of changes in air pressure during your exam, you cannot talk during your test.

If tympanometry hurts, do you have another way of measuring the flexibility of the eardrum?

There is another method called reflectance that doesn’t require pressurization of the ear canal. It works at all frequencies, but it takes a little more time (and a lot more math) to interpret.

Harbor Audiology Can Help

The hearing specialists at Harbor Audiology are dedicated to providing you with timely care so you can enjoy the best hearing possible. We offer evening and Saturday appointments, and we are experienced with VA and insurance claims of all kinds. Harbor Audiology has offices in Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Sequim, SilverdalePort Angeles, and Federal Way.  Request your appointment online today!

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What is Tympanometry Testing?

    • Tympanometry Testing is a diagnostic procedure used to evaluate the condition and function of the middle ear. It assesses the mobility of the eardrum and the conduction of sound through the middle ear space.

Why is Tympanometry Testing performed?

    • Tympanometry is conducted to detect issues like fluid in the middle ear, eustachian tube dysfunction, and problems with the middle ear bones. It helps audiologists and healthcare professionals diagnose various ear conditions and hearing problems.

Is Tympanometry Testing painful or uncomfortable?

    • No, Tympanometry is a painless and non-invasive test. It involves placing a probe in the ear canal and changing the air pressure, which may create a sensation of fullness or mild discomfort but should not be painful.

How long does a Tympanometry Test take?

    • Tympanometry is a relatively quick procedure, usually lasting around 5 to 10 minutes. The exact duration may vary depending on the complexity of the test and the patient’s specific condition.

What do the results of a Tympanometry Test reveal?

    • Tympanometry results are typically represented on a graph called a tympanogram. The graph can show if the eardrum is functioning correctly, if there’s fluid behind the eardrum, and the compliance of the middle ear system. Your audiologist or healthcare provider will interpret these results and discuss them with you, providing insights into your middle ear health.

If you have concerns about your middle ear function, hearing issues, or related symptoms like ear pressure, Tympanometry Testing can provide valuable information to guide diagnosis and treatment.