Can You Trust Online Hearing Tests?
Maybe you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves more often or notice that you’re nudging the TV volume louder than in the past. Or perhaps you’ve seen a family member having these issues. In any of these situations, it’s natural to wonder if hearing loss is to blame. Deciding whether to see an audiologist and find out for sure, however, can be a big decision. There’s the stigma and ageism that still swirl around hearing loss and can keep us from taking that next step. And then there’s also the current challenge of going on appointments during the Covid-19 pandemic.
One option to consider: taking an online hearing test. It can provide some helpful insight into what’s going on. If you decide to go this route (or encourage someone else to do so), here are five points to keep in mind:
1. Know what online tests can and cannot reveal
Recognize that these assessments can be a first step in diagnosing hearing loss, but aren’t comparable to a highly accurate, in-depth evaluation by a trained professional.
“Online tests are intended to screen your hearing, but they are not audiogram tests,” said Sharron Nixon, hearing services manager of Deaf and Hear Alberta. “They only indicate whether you may have loss. You still need a full test in a soundproof chamber with a professional.”
2. Look for tests with real-world scenarios
Auditory Insight president Nancy M. Williams was the lead author of a study that looked at how hearing tests can best engage users. “You want to interact with a test that will explain your hearing loss in real-world conditions, in real-world terms,” she said. In particular, she praised those by Miracle-Ear and Starkey for featuring relatable scenarios. For instance, Miracle-Ear’s test replicates being in a train station. “The announcement comes on and broadcasts the platform for your train,” Williams explained. “That's a real stressor for people with hearing loss. The announcer is often speaking over a lot of background noise.”
In Starkey’s evaluation, users are in a café and need to tune into conversations over the hubbub around them. These tests can provide valuable intel on how the test-taker fares in these everyday situations.
3. Recognize that these tests offer privacy – which can be a relief
While hearing loss—especially the age-related kind—affects many people, shame surrounding this disability can hinder acceptance. “I think these tests are really important because a lot of people with hearing loss have a need for privacy,” Williams said. “Not everybody is ready to go to the audiologist and have their hearing loss announced to them.”
Dr. Archelle Georgiou, the Chief Health Officer of Starkey Hearing, previously told Hearing Tracker how an online hearing test helped her mother move forward and address her hearing loss. “It provided objective evidence that she did indeed have hearing loss, and I think that's the moment she took it seriously,” Dr. Georgiou said.
4. Avoid the temptation to pump up the volume
Your computer’s volume setting may impact the results of an online test. ReSound’s hearing test, for example, tells users to make sure that “the volume is set at a comfortable level.” But a comfortable level could be much louder for someone with hearing loss than without—and it may also be higher than what an audiologist would use.
Amber Bright, who lives in Tennessee, took an online hearing test once and received different results than what her audiologist uncovered. “It's not really comparable. It can be ‘cheated’ by adjusting the volume on the computer, and external equipment [like certain speakers] can also amplify sounds,” Bright said. So keep the volume at a moderate level, and consider your results directional but not definitive.
5. Go ahead and boost your product knowledge
If you have an appointment for a hearing test, the audiologist will likely suggest getting hearing aids if a loss is detected. Some online hearing tests also nudge this process along, according to Williams. “An example is getting a product recommendation based on the type of hearing loss detected,” she said. She highlighted Audicus as an example of this. This information about appropriate devices can help deepen your knowledge.
If an online hearing test does indicate deficits, you’ll be primed to make your next move: contacting an audiologist or ENT. This professional can then do a full-fledged assessment and recommend the right devices to support your hearing.