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Do you frequently need to ask people to repeat themselves during conversations? If so, then it’s possible that you are experiencing some hearing loss.
Although they are no replacement for seeing an audiologist or other healthcare professional, a free online hearing test may be an essential first step toward determining whether or not you have hearing loss.
Learn more about what online hearing tests are and how they work by reading this article. We’ll also walk you through what it’s like to have an appointment with an audiologist, and why this is really the only way to diagnose and treat hearing loss.
- Online hearing tests can be a critical first step toward the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss.
- These tests are quick, easy and can be completed in the comfort of your own home.
- If an online hearing test concludes that you may have some hearing loss, then it is wise to schedule a visit with an audiologist to get further information.
Why Take an Online Hearing Test?
“Pardon? Could you say that again?”
How often do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves? For some people, such occurrences are everyday events. Sometimes, they happen several times a day.
This can be annoying both for you and the people with whom you regularly speak. In fact, some of your nearest and dearest may have suggested that it’s time for you to get your hearing checked.
Many websites offer free online hearing tests that anyone can take. Such tests are quick and easy, and you don’t have to make an appointment or even leave home to complete them.
Despite their simplicity, it is possible for an online hearing test to indicate that you may be suffering some degree of hearing loss. However, such tests cannot actually provide a comprehensive diagnosis, nor can they prescribe any kind of treatment.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
For many people, hearing loss is a simple side effect of aging. Repeated exposure to loud noises is the most common culprit. The noise produced by lawn mowers, snow blowers, heavy machinery on construction sites or in factories and listening to loud music on headphones are all examples of noises that can cause hearing loss. The good news is that you can protect yourself from many of these risks by turning down the volume of your music and wearing earplugs or an alternative form of ear protection when you know you’ll be exposed to loud noises.
Another factor that can cause hearing loss is a buildup of fluid in the ear or earwax. These materials may block sounds that should be carried from the eardrum to the inner ear. Mild treatments may be able to relieve these conditions and restore hearing ability.
Sometimes, a physical injury to the ear causes hearing loss. The most common of these is a puncture of the ear drum. Punctures may be caused by insertion of cotton-tipped swabs, an infection, pressure or putting other objects in the ear. If your ear hurts or is draining fluid, it’s wise to seek medical advice.
Several health conditions that are common in older adults also may cause hearing loss. These include high blood pressure and diabetes as well as a tumor, brain injury, stroke or heart condition.
It is possible that a prescribed medication may be responsible for hearing loss. Most of these are “Ototoxic” drugs that are used to treat heart disease, cancer and serious infections. Even some antibiotics are considered ototoxic. If you have taken one of these medications, it’s smart to seek medical advice to see if it affected your hearing.
Simple heredity can be responsible for hearing loss as well. Some inherited conditions cause early hearing loss, but others may lurk behind hearing loss later in life.
More than Impaired Hearing
Unfortunately, hearing loss has deeper and more far reaching ramifications than not being able to follow conversations. When people lose even a portion of their ability to hear, they are more prone to depression. They may find it harder to connect with others. People with hearing loss also have been shown to be at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Clearly, it’s crucial to be aware of the early warning signs of hearing loss so that appropriate treatment can be sought.
Common Signs of Hearing Loss
How do you know if it’s time to take an online hearing test? Usually, it’s because you are experiencing one or more of these signs:
- Having difficulty hearing conversations, especially with women and children;
- Being unable to hear telephone conversations;
- Frequently thinking that other people are mumbling;
- Following conversations with two or more people is difficult;
- Background noise makes it hard to hear specific sounds;
- Turning up the volume on the television so loud that others are bothered by it; and
- Often needing to ask people to repeat themselves.
If you regularly experience one or more of these problems, then you might benefit from taking an online hearing test.
Taking Online Hearing Tests
Scientists have found that approximately one in eight Americans over the age of eleven have some degree of hearing loss. An online hearing test is a quick, convenient and inexpensive way to determine if you are one of these individuals.
The purpose of an online hearing test is alerting users to the need for medical attention for their condition. These tests may consist of a pure tone audiometry test or speech recognition test. Some online test providers perform both of these tests. Moreover, online hearing test providers may test one ear at a time or both ears at once.
The better prepared you are to complete your online hearing test, the more accurate the results are likely to be. It is best to choose a quiet place in which external noises are minimized as much as possible. Turning off the air conditioning unit or heater, closing the door and closing the windows are recommended.
Make sure that you use high-quality earphones for the test. A model that goes over and encloses the entire ear will work best. You simply connect those earphones to your laptop, smartphone or computer to begin the test.
Recommended Providers of Online Hearing Tests
Many websites provide hearing tests. Some of them do not require users to provide any contact information to complete a test. Examples of these include Starkey, Hearing Test Online, Shoebox, ReSound, Hear-it.org and HearWHO.
The tests from these providers can be completed in five minutes or fewer. In most cases, you’ll be asked to complete a brief questionnaire before beginning. However, the types of tests offered by each provider can vary widely.
Starkey tests each ear individually, and the testing includes speech comprehension with added background noise. You receive instant written results. Hearing Test Online provides the option of testing your ears individually or together. After finishing a three-minute test, you’ll immediately receive an audiogram that’s complete with overlays for some of the most common sounds.
Shoebox offers frequency tests for the left and right ear with immediate results that include thorough explanations. ReSound only tests both ears at the same time with a speech comprehension exam that includes background noise. A written summary and recommendation may suggest visiting an audiologist. HearWHO is only usable via smartphone. It offers a speech comprehension with background noise test that is simultaneously given to both ears. Instant results should let you know if further investigation is needed.
Your Appointment with an Audiologist
No online hearing test can really compare with the comprehensive tests that are administered in person by a medical professional. If an online hearing test suggests that you may be dealing with hearing loss, then it is wise to make an appointment.
The tests that you will undergo during your visit will provide significant information with regard to your hearing loss. Although people with healthy hearing can detect sounds in frequencies from 20 to 20,000 Hertz, the hearing tests that you will complete only cover the range between 125 and 8,000 Hertz. This is because most speech occurs somewhere within this range.
Instead of using just one simple test, the audiologist may conduct a series of tests. Moreover, these will be performed using the latest and most cutting-edge technology that is available.
One of the most common tests is pure tone audiometry. For this test, you will wear headphones and be asked to push a button when you hear a sound at various frequencies. These frequencies are measured in Hertz. You’ll also be tested at varying volumes, which are measured in decibels. You may hear of this test being referred to as an air conduction test. The results of pure tone audiometry can highlight damage to the patient’s middle ear, which includes the ear drum and the tiny bones that are responsible for transforming sound waves into mechanical energy.
Another test that an audiologist may perform is bone conduction. No headphones are required for this test. Instead, a small electronic device will be placed behind your ear. The device sends out vibrations that the cochlea in the inner ear should be able to detect. When you hear a sound, you make a signal to the audiologist. Because this test bypasses the structure of the middle ear, it can help the doctor to figure out precisely where your hearing loss is occurring.
Speech recognition is another common test in which you’ll be asked to wear headphones as you listen to words being played to you at varying volumes. Some of the words may be attended by background noise. The doctor will ask you to repeat each word that you hear. This is an excellent test for revealing what’s known as hidden hearing loss in which the patient is able to hear everything but has difficulty discerning speech.
The audiologist further may suggest an otoacoustic emissions test. To complete this exam, a probe that is equipped with a microphone and speaker is placed in the patient’s ear canal. The speaker emits various sounds, and the hair cells on the inner ear are expected to vibrate and produce soft sounds in response. These sounds should be picked up by the microphone. If no such sounds are detected, the patient may be suffering from hearing loss that is greater than 25 to 30 decibels.
The results of these and other potential tests tell the audiologist whether or not the patient has hearing loss. If hearing loss is present, these tests will reveal where it occurs and its extent. Test results enable the production of an audiogram, which is a visual representation of the frequencies that you can hear and the volumes at which you can hear them.
For instance, if you have hearing loss of 10 decibels or greater, then you probably are unable to hear the chirping of birds or the rustling of leaves in the breeze. You would be unable to hear people whispering or a dripping water faucet if you have hearing loss of more than 20 decibels.
The Differences Between Online Hearing Tests and Seeing an Audiologist
When you make an appointment with an audiologist, you will get a far more comprehensive understanding of your ability to hear. These tests are far more sensitive and robust, providing you with an opportunity to realize the true extent of your hearing loss.
Moreover, your audiologist will ask you several questions about your current and past state of health. This is critical because numerous physical conditions may affect your ability to hear. It also is possible that any problems that you have with hearing can worsen your other medical conditions.
Your audiologist also can assess other symptoms you may be experiencing like ear noise, which is commonly called tinnitus, balance problems that may include vertigo or dizziness or your exposure to loud, dangerous sounds.
Additionally, the doctor will physically examine your ears to determine the presence of excessive ear wax, bleeding or drainage.
Perhaps best of all, an audiologist can prescribe hearing aids or other devices that could improve your ability to hear and may even slow the progression of your hearing loss.
If you have concerns about your ability to hear, then taking an online hearing test can be a great way to gain some insight. However, an appointment with an audiologist is imperative if any hearing loss is indicated.
Whenever you suspect that your hearing is not as keen as it used to be, it is wise to schedule an appointment. It can be extremely hard for an ordinary person to recognize all of the signs of hearing loss. Moreover, hearing loss can affect or be affected by numerous other medical conditions. Your audiologist may recommend a follow-up examination with your general practitioner if any medical conditions are indicated during your examination.
If you feel more comfortable, take the online hearing test at home. An appointment with an audiologist is critical if any hearing loss is indicated or if you believe that you have any degree of hearing loss. The audiologist can diagnose and treat your condition.