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Common cranial nerve examination questions for medical finals, OSCEs and MRCP PACES: vestibulocochlear nerve (VIII)

Click on the the questions below to see the answers, or click here for questions about other cranial nerves and click here to learn how to examine the cranial nerves.


Question 1: 

What is the difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss?

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a problem in the external and middle ear.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by pathology in the inner ear and further centrally.

Question 2: 

What are the Rinne’s and Weber's tests and why are they used?

  • Rinne’s and Weber’s tests are special examinations using a 512Hz tuning fork to distinguish between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
  • In Rinne’s test, after the tuning fork is struck, it is placed in front of the affected ear (testing air conduction) and then the base of the tuning fork is placed on the mastoid process (testing bone conduction). The patient is then asked when they hear the sound of the tuning fork loudest. Since air conduction is greater than bone conduction the sound of the tuning fork should be heard louder in front of the ear.
  • In Weber’s test, once the tuning fork is struck, it is placed in the middle of the patient’s forehead and the patient is again asked to note where the sound is loudest (in either ear or in the middle). If the patient has no hearing loss they will hear the tuning fork in the middle of their head.
  • The following is a summary of the results found and what they mean:
CONDUCTIVE Sound heard loudest in affected ear Bone conduction is louder than air conduction
SENSORINEURAL Sound heard loudest in unaffected ear Air conduction is louder than bone conduction


Question 3: 

What are the common causes of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss?

  • Conductive hearing loss: affects the external and middle ear
    • External auditory canal: Wax, Otitis externa, Foreign body
    • Tympanic membrane : Perforated eardrum
    • Middle ear: Otosclerosis, Otitis media
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: affects the inner ear and more central structures
    • Congenital:
      • g. Alport syndrome
    • Lesions of the cochlea:
      • Old age, Meniere’s disease, Drugs (gentamicin + loop diuretics – furosemide), Occupational trauma,
    • Lesions of the Auditory nerve:
      • Acoustic neuroma, meningitis,
    • Brainstem damage:
      • Multiple sclerosis, Infarct


Question 4: 

What are the clinical signs of a unilateral cerebellopontine angle (CPA) lesion?

  • Trigeminal (V) nerve: Reduced facial sensation on affected side + loss of corneal reflex + impaired muscles of mastication
  • Lower Facial (VII) nerve: Weakness in upper and lower aspects of the face + loss of taste in anterior 2/3rds of the tongue
  • Vestibulocochlear (VIII) nerve: Sensorineural hearing loss on affected side.
  • Cerebellar signs
  • If the Cerebellopontine angle lesion is very large it can extend and affect IX → XII nerves in order
  • Commonly cerebellopontine angle lesions are caused by acoustic neuromas (vestibular schwannomas) and second most commonly meningiomas, requiring MRI imaging to image the lesion.


Click here for OSCE and PACES questions on the trigeminal nerve (5th) and click here for OSCE and PACES questions on the facial nerve (7th).

Click here for medical student finals, OSCE and MRCP PACES notes on the cranial nerve exam

How to perform the cranial nerve exam for  finals, OSCEs and PACES