December 14, 2011

Tuning fork tests. Are they necessary?

Does the humble tuning fork still have a place in a modern audiology centre?

Tuning forks (this is mine which I’ve owned for 35 years) are used to carry Rinne and Weber tests.

These tests provide a quick easy method of determining whether a hearing loss is situated in the middle ear or inner ear.

A vibrating tuning fork is placed behind the ear, on the mastoid process. When the patient can no longer feel/hear the vibration, the tuning fork is held in front of the ear; the patient should once more be able to hear a ringing sound.

If they can’t there is conductive hearing loss in that ear. The tuning fork is then placed on the forehead. The client is then asked if the sound is localised in the centre of the head or whether it is louder in either ear.

If there is a conductive (middle ear) hearing loss, it is likely to be louder in the affected ear; if there is a sensorineural hearing loss (inner ear) it will be quieter in the affected ear.

This test helps us determine whether the hearing loss is conductive (caused by problems in the outer or middle ear) or sensorineural (caused by problems in the cochlea, the sensory organ of hearing) or neural – caused by a problem in the auditory nerve or auditory pathways/cortex of the brain.

Our latest battery of test equipment can do this more accurately and provide far more information to help us determine where a hearing loss is and how best to treat it.

But when there’s a power cut or no access to a plug socket or our computer dies, the humble tuning fork comes out of its case.