Tympanometry is a simple test that can help diagnose problems related to hearing loss. In particular, it tests how well your middle ear works by measuring how your eardrum moves. The most common issues affecting your middle ear are usually easy to treat.
Tympanometry is a test that shows how well your middle ear is working. It does this by measuring how your eardrum moves.
Your ear consists of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Sound enters through your outer ear as energy or vibrations. The energy strikes your eardrum (located in your middle ear) and travels to your inner ear and brain. There, the energy gets transformed into electrical signals your brain understands as sound.
Think of it this way: Your middle ear moves sound along a pathway where what starts as energy eventually becomes the experience of sound your brain processes as hearing. If something goes wrong along the pathway, you may have trouble hearing.
Tympanometry can help diagnose problems that arise along the middle ear part of the path where sound is conducted from your ear canal to your inner ear.
Tympanometry may be part of a routine hearing test. It can also be used to help diagnose conditions involving your middle ear that may cause hearing loss. It can help a healthcare provider decide why hearing loss is occurring. It can also help them determine if hearing aids will correct your hearing loss or if you’ll need a different treatment.
Tympanometry is often used in children, but can be used at any age to determine from where in the hearing pathway hearing loss originates. Young children often develop fluid in their ears that can cause hearing problems if left untreated.
An audiologist performs tympanometry. An audiologist is a doctoral-level healthcare provider who helps people with hearing loss and balance issues. They prevent, diagnose and treat hearing-related issues affecting children and adults.
Tympanometry uses an instrument called a tympanometer to perform the test and record the results. The tympanometer has a probe that the audiologist will insert into your ear during the test. The probe has three ports:
You’ll sit upright during the test. Children can sit on their parent’s or caregiver’s lap. It’s important to remain still during tympanometry. Moving, laughing, talking, coughing or swallowing can all interfere with the results.
Tympanometry isn’t a risky test, and there usually aren’t any side effects. Still, young children may be confused about what’s happening during the test. It’s a good idea to prepare them beforehand. Depending on your child’s age, you might explain what will happen or demonstrate it on a doll.
The shape of the tympanogram will show whether your results are normal or abnormal.
Normal results mean your eardrum is moving as it should. If your eardrum moves normally, the line on the graph will appear curved, like a hill or mountain. The highest part of the curve, or the mountain “peak,” will happen between -100 and +100 daPa on the graph if your eardrum is moving as expected. A decapascal (daPa) is the unit used to measure air pressure inside your ear canal.
An experienced audiologist can often tell what’s causing a stiff eardrum by studying the graph’s curve.
An abnormal tympanogram may mean you have:
The audiologist may recommend seeing an otolaryngologist (ENT physician) based on what’s preventing your eardrum from moving correctly. The most common causes, like fluid build-up, are often easy to treat. Importantly, tympanometry can’t differentiate fluid from infected fluid.
They test different things. Audiometry tests how well you hear sounds. This includes how well you can distinguish various types of sounds (tones) and how well you can hear quiet or loud sounds. Tympanometry tests how well your middle ear works by measuring eardrum movement. Both tests can help a healthcare provider diagnose problems related to hearing loss.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Tympanometry is a quick and easy test that shows how well your middle ear is working. It doesn’t require any special preparation on your part. After the test, an audiologist can provide reassurance that your middle ear is working as it should. Or they can recommend more tests or treatments to correct whatever’s interfering with your hearing.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/26/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.