Monday, 8 July 2013

A Brief Explanation Of Audiometers

By Lana Bray

There is an irony in the fact that the ability to hear isn't one that gets much attention until it starts to fade. New technology in industry and developments in the entertainment industry have led to a more marked degree of hearing loss in society than was previously the case. In assessing and repairing this trend of damage, audiometers play an important role.

People are exposed to excessively loud noises on a daily basis, either at work or in other environments. Think of the interior of a noisy factory or the thumping beat of a nightclub. Over time, exposure to such loud noises can cause hearing loss. In order to prevent such loss, it is important to be able to measure a person's hearing sensitivity, and this is what audio measuring devices are used to do.

Audiometers all operate according to the same principle. The device produces a carefully controlled sound which is routed into the ears of the person being tested. The volume and frequency of the this sound are deliberately determined by the device, and the sound then becomes the yardstick by which the sensitivity of the person's hearing is measured. The volume of the sound is measured in decibels (dB) and the frequency (pitch) in Hertz (Hz). The louder a sound, the higher its decibel count, while frequency is an indication of pitch (high or low sounds).

The purpose of the test is to determine the sensitivity of the person's hearing. This is why the typical setup of an audiometer is a pair of headphones attached by wires to a machine or a computer. Once the person's sensitivity has been established, the necessary steps can be taken to rectify the person's hearing or to prevent further damage.

Of course, the audiometer needs to be adjusted so that the sounds it produces can be effectively controlled. This type of adjustment is called calibration, and it involves fine-tuning the machine so that the sounds it makes are genuinely pitched at the volume and frequency required. Calibration needs to be done on a regular basis for the machine to be reliably accurate.

There are several ways in which an audiometer gets put out of tune, such as incorrect handling of the equipment, an environmental temperature which is too high or too low, the equipment's age, and excessive use. Like a musical instrument, an audiometer is a sensitive piece of equipment. In order to operate with acceptable accuracy at all times, an audiometer should be re-calibrated every year.

There are essentially two types of audiometer. The first is known as the hardware type, and consists of a machine linked to headphones. The second is based on software, hence its name, and involves the use of a computer or other electronic device. Both types do the same thing. The main difference is that computer-based or software audiometers never need to be re-calibrated because they cannot lose accuracy. They can also be more refined in their degree of accuracy, since it is digital. However, they are harder to use due to variations in individual application (such as speaker volume and PC output).

In contemporary times people are experiencing progressively louder sound environments. Audiometers play a key role in monitoring this situation. They are of invaluable assistance in regulating and preventing hearing damage and loss.

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