When are hearing tests needed at the Aviation Medical?

CASA stipulate that a hearing test is needed for Class 1 & Class 3 licenses:

  • On initial license issue
  • Then at ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80

Note that the hearing tests (as with any test) is done at the specified age. This is not quite the same as every 5 years.

For example, an initial license may be issued at age 23 and a hearing test be performed then (initial license). The hearing test will still need to be done at age 25.

What are the CASA hearing standards?

The vast majority of people pass the initial screening test. In the unlikely event you don’t then the typical next step is a speech test,  and if that’s a problem then a test of hearing in the work place (ATC or cockpit). So the hearing check at the medical is just a screening test that most people easily pass. The standards to pass the screening test are:

  • 35 decibel (dB) loss at 500Hz, 1000 Hz, or 2000Hz
  • or a 50 dB loss at 3000Hz

35dB is around the sound level of a very quiet conversation. The hearing check itself is a simple tone – you can or can’t hear it.

What are the common Conditions that affect Hearing?

Presbyopia: Seeing close-up needs Correction

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Can be thought of as a physical obstruction to the sound waves in some place between the outer and inner ear. Common causes are:

  • Ear Wax – Easy to treat!
  • Infections of the middle ear (otitis media) and outer ear (otitis externa). Pain is often prominent, and these are treated with antibiotics.
  • Perforated eardrum following otitis media. Most heal within around 6 weeks.
  • Otosclerosis: a progressive disorder that usually starts in younger adults and causes the bones of the middle ear to over-grow
Cochlear and aviation

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss is caused by damage to the hearing-sensing mechanism of the delicate inner ear.

Individual hair cells of the cochlear pick up sound waves that are transmitted to neural impulses and then on to the central nervous system.

Common Causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:

  • Ageing – It’s an inevitable part of getting older that hair cells are lost with age.
  • Excessive noise. In the aviation environment, it’s important to wear noise-cancelling headset and set the intercom volume to a level that is not too high.
  • Viral Infection
  • Vascular
  • Medication such as Quinine, diuretics and some Antibiotics like Gentamicin
  • Meniere’s Disease: This condition also causes Vertigo and Tinnitus

Acute sensorineural hearing loss (usually outside of the aviation environment) is regarded as an Emergency – there are now effective treatments in some patients provided the treatment is started as soon as possible.

Dr Richard Beatty, specialist GP & Designated Aviation Medical Examiner; BM FRACGP MRCP(UK) ACCAM
Last Reviewed / Modified: 15/07/2015
First Published: 14/11/2014