What are Rinne and Weber tests?

Rinne and Weber tests are exams that test for hearing loss. They help determine whether you may have conductive or sensorineural hearing loss. This determination allows a doctor to come up with a treatment plan for your hearing changes.

A Rinne test evaluates hearing loss by comparing air conduction to bone conduction. Air conduction hearing occurs through air near the ear, and it involves the ear canal and eardrum. Bone conduction hearing occurs through vibrations picked up by the ear’s specialized nervous system.

A Weber test is another way to evaluate conductive and sensorineural hearing losses.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are unable to pass through the middle ear to the inner ear. This can be caused by problems in the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear, such as:

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there’s damage to any part of the specialized nervous system of the ear. This includes the auditory nerve, hair cells in the inner ear, and other parts of the cochlea. Ongoing exposure to loud noises and aging are common reasons for this type of hearing loss.

Doctors use both Rinne and Weber tests to evaluate your hearing. Early identification of a problem allows you to get early treatment, which in some cases can prevent total hearing loss.

Doctors benefit from using Rinne and Weber tests because they are simple, can be done in the office, and are easy to perform. They’re often the first of several tests used to determine the cause of hearing change or loss.

The tests can help identify the conditions that cause hearing loss. Examples of conditions that cause abnormal Rinne or Weber tests include:

  • eardrum perforation
  • wax in the ear canal
  • ear infection
  • middle ear fluid
  • otosclerosis (the inability of the small bones within the middle ear to move properly)
  • nerve injury to the ears

Rinne and Weber tests both use 512-Hz tuning forks to test how you respond to sounds and vibrations near your ears.

Rinne test

  1. The doctor strikes a tuning fork and places it on the mastoid bone behind one ear.
  2. When you can no longer hear the sound, you signal to the doctor.
  3. Then, the doctor moves the tuning fork next to your ear canal.
  4. When you can no longer hear that sound, you once again signal the doctor.
  5. The doctor records the length of time you hear each sound.

Weber test

  1. The doctor strikes a tuning fork and places it on the middle of your head.
  2. You note where the sound is best heard: the left ear, the right ear, or both equally.

Rinne and Weber tests are noninvasive and cause no pain, and there are no risks associated with them. The information they provide determines the type of hearing loss you may have, especially when the results of both tests are used together.

Rinne Test results

  • Normal hearing will show an air conduction time that is twice as long as the bone conduction time. In other words, you will hear the sound next to your ear twice as long as you will hear the sound behind your ear.
  • If you have conductive hearing loss, the bone conduction is heard longer than the air conduction sound.
  • If you have sensorineural hearing loss, air conduction is heard longer than bone conduction, but may not be twice as long.

Weber Test results

  • Normal hearing will produce equal sound in both ears.
  • Conductive loss will cause the sound to be heard best in the abnormal ear.
  • Sensorineural loss will cause the sound to be heard best in the normal ear.

The Rinne and Weber tests are easy to perform, and there’s no special preparation required. You will need to go to the doctor’s office, and the doctor will conduct the tests there.

There are no side effects of Rinne and Weber tests. After you have the tests, you’ll be able to discuss any necessary treatment options with your doctor. Further examinations and tests will help determine the exact location and cause of the type of hearing loss you have. Your doctor will suggest ways to reverse, correct, improve, or manage your particular hearing problem.