5 Reasons to Reconsider taking an Online Hearing Test
Updated: May 27, 2020
If you’ve been turning the television louder, asking others to repeat themselves, or asking people to face you in order to hear them better, you could be experiencing symptoms of hearing loss. Hearing loss can be frustrating and scary. You may have wondered, “Can I just test my hearing myself at home?”
The answer is yes, you can. However, the results are not a diagnosis of your hearing loss or symptoms and can’t be used to properly fit you for hearing aids. If you are unsure if you have a problem, an online test can help you screen your issues to determine if you should visit an audiologist for a more in-depth exam.
Types of online hearing tests
Hearing tests found online are not all identical. Some are designed to screen for hearing loss, while others are promoted as “comprehensive” hearing tests. You should know that online exams are not comprehensive, but rather an initial screening to point you in the right direction.
There are websites that offer online hearing tests and applications (apps) you can download to your smartphone or tablet. Each of these online hearing tests have different testing methods. Some present everyday environmental sounds to you and ask you to adjust a volume slider to the lowest audible setting. Some tests include identifying pure tones or speech, and many will incorporate background noise in the test.
Are Online Hearing Tests Accurate?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, it’s best to visit an audiologist as online hearing test results are not accurate and cannot give you a diagnosis. Although online hearing exams can be a good screening tool, there are a variety of reasons to reconsider taking a hearing test online, including device variations, environmental factors and more.
5 Reasons Online Hearing Tests are Not Accurate
Ambient noise in the environment can affect the results obtained during a hearing test. These noises can mask (cover up) the signal that you’re trying to hear. Environmental noises such as a dog barking or children playing are obviously intrusive to a hearing test, but softer sounds in the environment such as the refrigerator humming or air conditioner running can interfere with accuracy of the test results. Noise cancelling headphones could improve this issue, but at a premium.
The device you use to take the test is responsible for generating the sound delivered during testing. There are hundreds of computers and smartphones, and their capabilities vary. The frequency spectrum and/or preciseness of the frequency response may be inaccurate or limited. If the volume of the device needs to be increased significantly, this could introduce distortion into the signal.
Headphones While some of these tests don’t require the use of headphones, it is recommended. Headphones allow you to test each ear individually and help to block out unwanted ambient noise. The headphones used can also affect your test results.
Did you know that some headphones are designed to have a characteristic sound quality? There are brands or models that are designed to be bass-heavy and others that are designed with a bright treble register. These tonal qualities may be desirable when listening to music but aren’t desirable when conducting a hearing test.
Imagine testing your ability to hear high frequency sounds using headphones that purposely have a subdued high frequency response! Oy!
It’s important that they have enough output capability or headroom to deliver the test signals without altering them. Less-efficient headphones will compress the output when driven beyond their normal operating range. When this happens they are no longer functioning as a linear system. What goes in is not what comes out. So even if the incoming signal from the computer or smartphone is accurate, the headphones used may introduce distortions of their own.
There are high quality studio headphones available but the cost may be prohibitive. Further, the weight or seal of the headphones to someone’s ears affects the accuracy of the signal delivery.
If you are hoping to begin hearing better, an online hearing test will only point you in the direction of seeking out professional help but will not give you a diagnosis.
A diagnostic audiological evaluation provides information to you about the severity of your hearing loss, but also the type of hearing loss. Some hearing problems can be the result of medical conditions and may warrant medical treatment. There could also be solutions to your unique hearing problems that can be missed by lack of professional guidance.
Great hearing involves more than just an amplifying device. By identifying your unique communication needs, we can find solutions to meet them. This involves asking a variety of questions to determine what situations are most difficult for you and which ones are most important to you, and to gain an understanding of your preferences and expectations. Hearing rehabilitation could include assistive listening devices, hearing aids, communication strategies, and/or therapy. These vital components are missed in an online hearing test.
The Benefits of Visiting an Audiologist
Home hearing tests are great for helping you decide if you need to see an audiologist, but should be considered a screening tool and not a diagnostic exam. While an online hearing assessment can bring awareness to a potential hearing difficulty, the results of these tests have questionable accuracy due to computers or smartphones not being properly calibrated.
When you visit a doctor for a hearing exam, all of the testing materials are calibrated and there is a sound-proof room to ensure a sterile testing environment.
At our clinic in Houma, LA we use the following tools to test your hearing, all calibrated to ANSI standards:
We use a sound-treated booth that is calibrated annually to ensure ANSI Standards are met when performing your exam.
Our tympanometer, audiometer, and headphones are calibrated annually to ensure proper delivery of test signals.
Even the testing materials used are calibrated! Whether the tones and speech are stored in the audiometer, or an external compact disc, the signals we use are calibrated for proper input into the system.
If you’re interested in learning more about hearing loss, check out our About Hearing Loss page to learn more. If you are unsure if you have a hearing problem, please check out our Hearing Assessment Questionnaire.
If you or someone you love has completed a hearing test at home, we’d be happy to discuss the results with you via phone or a telehealth appointment.