Are you noticing that normal conversations are harder to hear and understand? This guide will tell you how to check your hearing, including all the details about professional and at-home testing.
Online Hearing Tests to Determine Hearing Health
If you notice a hearing problem, you might try self-screening at home before making an appointment with a doctor or getting a professional hearing test. Many websites offer a free hearing test online.
You can try Resound’s hearing test online. They recommend that you wear headphones and take the test in a quiet place. During the test, you will hear a set of words followed by numbers.
You must tap the corresponding word or number you heard on the screen. The test will also measure your hearing ability in the presence of background noise.
Online tests aren’t a substitute for a professional test, but they’re an excellent first step. You still need a diagnosis.
Check Your Hearing With Phone-Based Testing
You can also try the National Hearing Test developed by Communication Disorders Technology with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. This phone-based test is effective at identifying all types of hearing loss.
The test is fairly reliable as a screening tool.
However, it has an estimated false positive rate of up to 45 percent.
The test costs $8 through the National Hearing Test website, but you can take it annually for free if you are an AARP member. This test should be considered for information purposes only. You will still need to see a hearing specialist.
Have a Hearing Professional Chek Your Hearing Loss
Depending on your circumstances, you may need to see several medical professionals to determine the type, severity, and cause of your hearing loss. You’ll often start with an examination by your family doctor.
A general practitioner can treat some root causes of hearing loss, such as ear infections and wax buildup. See your doctor before talking to a hearing care professional if you suspect you have some form of medically reversible hearing impairment.
Moreover, your healthcare provider may require you to get a referral before getting a hearing test.
Your doctor will:
- Review medical history and medications
- Ask you about your symptoms
- Look inside your ear canal for blockage, growths or damage
- Perform a complete physical exam
Seeing an Audiologist
To get a definitive diagnosis, you need to consult with someone who specializes in identifying, categorizing and measuring hearing loss.
An audiologist will ask you about your medical history and administer hearing tests to determine the type and severity of the impairment.
An audiologist will check each ear separately to see if hearing loss is present in one or both ears —unilateral or bilateral—and if it’s more pronounced in one ear. This is useful for pinning down the type and underlying cause. For example, sensorineural hearing loss is frequently bilateral.
Types of Professional Hearing Tests
An audiologist has several ways to test how well your ears work and check the function of your middle ear parts.
If your other test results point to a problem in the middle ear, a hearing specialist may want to take a closer look at your eardrum.
A tympanometry test sends air into your ear canal to see if your eardrum is too flexible or stiff.
You may have a tear or hole that needs to be repaired surgically.
Pure tone audiometry
A pure tone test measures your ability to hear sound waves at different volumes.
The audiologist will play sounds with different pitches and adjust the volume to determine the softest sounds you can hear at each frequency. They will note the results on a grid called an audiogram test or chart.
Bone conduction test
An audiologist may check for conductive hearing loss by using a tuning fork or tone generator to send tones through the bone and air. People with normal hearing usually hear sounds transmitted via air conduction better. Those with conductive hearing loss hear better through the bone.
Acoustic reflex testing
This diagnostic test measures the reflex response of muscles in the middle ear.
Otoacoustic emissions testing:
The hair cells of the inner ear respond to sound by vibrating. These vibrations can be measured to check for signs of hearing loss.
This objective test is used to screen newborns and pre-verbal children who can’t participate in pure tone testing.
If an audiologist determines that you have hearing loss, they may use a speech test to check to see how it affects your ability to communicate by playing normal speech sounds at different volumes to determine the softest speech you can understand.
When To Get Your Hearing Checked
People often underestimate their hearing loss or don’t realize that they have it. Here are some signs:
- You frequently ask people to repeat themselves.
- You watch TV at a louder volume than your family members.
- You can’t understand speech in a noisy environment, such as a restaurant, metro station, or party.
- You struggle with conversations on the phone.
- People often tell you to lower your voice.
You can read our complete guide on hearing loss to get a better understanding and actionable next steps.
Routine Testing for Hearing Loss
Early detection can help keep hearing loss from worsening, so getting tested regularly is a good idea.
Adults with normal hearing should get tested every five to 10 years. After 50, you should increase the frequency to every three to five years.
Experts recommend annual testing for the following groups:
- Workers routinely exposed to loud noises, such as construction workers and military personnel
- Seniors over age 65
- People already diagnosed with hearing loss
Does Insurance Cover Hearing Tests?
Coverage varies, but many standard health plans do not include hearing care. It’s often sold as an add-on like dental or vision coverage.
Some plans, like Medicare Part B, may cover a hearing test if your doctor orders it and it’s deemed medically necessary. Contact your insurance carrier to find out more about your coverage and options.
How Much Do Hearing Tests Cost?
A hearing test costs $60 with insurance on average, depending on the clinic, practitioner, and insurance company. If you don’t have insurance or your provider doesn’t cover hearing, expect to pay as much as $250. Ask your insurance company about coverage, copays, and deductibles before scheduling a hearing test.
How Do I Get a Hearing Test?
To get tested, you must schedule an appointment with a licensed audiologist. The American Academy of Audiology website has a searchable database to help you find one in your area. If your insurance plan covers hearing, you should check with your provider to locate one in your network.
Do I Need a Hearing Test to Get a Hearing Aid?
It depends on the hearing aid you get. For OTC (over-the-counter) Hearing aids, you do not need to have a hearing test from an Audiologist. Medical hearing devices offered by major hearing brands like Starkey and Phonak require testing done by a medical professional.
Hearing loss can significantly impact your quality of life. Many people who might benefit from treatment don’t seek help because they’re unaware of how bad the problem is.
If you suspect you have hearing loss, a free online or phone test can help you decide your next steps. Depending on your initial hearing test results, you may want to follow up with a hearing professional.
Older adults have a greater risk for age-related hearing loss, so you’ll need to get tested often after 50 and annually past 65. If you frequently wear earphones or have high occupational exposure to loud sounds, you should also test regularly.