Alternative names

Tympanometry is a test used to detect disorders of the middle air. Air pressure in the ear canal is varied to test the condition and mobility (movement) of the ear drum (tympanic membrane).

How the test is performed
Initially, your health care provider will examine your ear canal with an otoscope to ensure there is a clear path to your ear drum. Then, a device is inserted in your ear that will change the pressure in your ear, produce a pure tone, and measure your body’s responses to the sound and different pressures.

How to prepare for the test
During the test, it is important not speak, move, swallow, or startle. All these actions can alter the pressure in the middle ear and invalidate the test results. The sounds heard during the test may be loud and potentially startling, so a conscious effort is required to avoid a startle reflex.

If your child is to have this test performed it may be helpful to explain how the test will feel, and even practice or demonstrate on a doll. The more familiar your child is with what will happen and why, the less anxiety he or she will feel.

How the test will feel
There may be some discomfort while the probe is in the ear, but no harm will result. You will hear a loud tone as the measurements are taken.

Why the test is performed
This test determines the functionality of the tympanic membrane by observing its response to waves of pressure, and measuring the pressure of the middle ear.

Normal Values
The normal pressure inside the middle ear is 100 daPa (a very small amount). The tympanic membrane should appear smooth and symmetrical.

What abnormal results mean
Tympanometry may reveal any of the following:

  • Fluid in the middle ear  
  • Perforated ear drum  
  • Impacted ear wax  
  • Scarring of the tympanic membrane  
  • Lack of contact between the conduction bones of the middle ear  
  • A tumor in the middle ear

What the risks are
There are no risks.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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