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Can You Test Your Hearing Online?

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Updated June 18, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Can You Test Your Hearing Online?

Please note that the tests below are not a replacement for professional assessment. In addition, About.com is not able to formally evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of these tests. If you suspect you have a hearing impairment, you should make an appointment with a professional audiologist.

Answer:

Actually, you can! Some websites, especially those operated by hearing aid manufacturers, offer free online hearing tests.

So why would anyone test their hearing by themselves? Some people may suspect they have a hearing loss, but do not feel ready for an audiologist. An online test can help confirm their initial suspicions. The Web is also helpful for people who live far from an audiologist.

Many hearing aid manufacturers offer a way for potential customers to test their hearing via their website. For example, Phonak offers a test that measures your ability to hear in the presence of noise.

Another hearing aid company, Siemens, offers a test that asks you to pick a word out from background noise. And the test from Starkey lets you listen to tones at different frequencies.

An About.com visitor tried the Equal Loudness Contours and Audiometry site. His comments: "Here's the best one I've seen yet. It features tones from 20 Hz to 16 KHz. You click until you can barely hear the tone and it registers the level. A word of caution: I used a set of noise-canceling headphones with a good frequency response. Inexpensive headphones or ones that do not cancel noise may make any test inaccurate. The tones (at least to me) begin and end with a click -- that will make some of the uninitiated think they heard an official sound. Listen for the actual tone."

Another type of hearing test involves answering a questionnaire. No actual listening to sounds is involved. An example is offered by the Better Hearing Institute.

Research into Online Hearing Tests

Researchers in Sweden did a study that looked at the effectiveness of Internet-based hearing tests versus answering a questionnaire. Before taking an Internet-based hearing test that followed guidelines for clinical audiometric testing, participants had to answer a questionnaire about their hearing ability. The hearing test that followed involved six tones between 500 and 8,000 Hz. The sounds were zero to 60 decibels and participants had to use headphones. Participants had to respond quickly.

Of the 88 participants who took the test, only 61 were usable for analysis. Of that amount, a little more than half thought they had a hearing loss, but only 20% actually demonstrated a hearing loss. For comparison purposes, the authors noted that a standard pure-tone audiogram test that was done at a hospital, found that out of 72 people, 20 had actual hearing loss.

The study's authors concluded that an Internet-based hearing test is a useful way to cheaply screen for hearing loss and is better than a questionnaire. However, it is not a replacement for audiometric hearing tests done by a professional audiologist. The authors noted they had a low response rate for the hearing test (560 people had been invited to participate, but only 29% answered the questionnaire and only 16% took the actual hearing test). Plus, those who did respond tended to be older; and older people are more susceptible to hearing loss.

More About Hearing Tests

Sources:

Bexelius, Christin, Louise Honeth, MD, Alexandra Ekman, PhD, Mikael Eriksson, Sven Sandin, Dan Bagger-Sjöbäck, MD, PhD,and Jan-Eric Litton, PhD. Evaluation of an Internet-Based Hearing Test - Comparison with Established Methods for Detection of Hearing Loss. Journal of Medical Internet Research. Oct-Dec 2008. Vol 10, No. 4.

Readers Respond: Hearing Test - Most Disliked Aspect of Hearing Test

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