Almost anything can be done online in today’s digital age. It is no surprise that people have been using the internet, or a variety of apps or online tests to determine the status of their hearing. As audiologists, it is important to evaluate how accurate these tests are for patients.
The biggest challenge with hearing tests conducted outside of a hearing clinic is that many variables cannot be controlled. The reason these hearing tests might not be the most accurate is that variables like extraneous noise in the room, ear anatomy and proper sound levels coming out of the speakers are not taken into consideration.
Consider Noise When Conducting your Online Hearing Test
Noise is everywhere. If you have ever visited a hearing clinic, you would have seen a large, metal, soundproof room (also called a sound booth) with a small window where an audiologist conducts hearing tests. In case you have not been to a hearing clinic before, the audiologist has the patient sit in the sound proof room, and performs a variety of tests to determine if there is hearing loss and determines where in auditory system the hearing loss originates. To find your hearing thresholds, or the softest sounds you can hear, the audiologist will place a foam tip into your ear and play tones or beeps at different pitches. The audiologist will ask you to identify if you have heard the sound, even when it is extremely soft or a beep that sounds far away. The sound booth at the hearing clinic, along with the foam tips used to conduct the test, helps with soundproofing and determining the softest sounds you can hear at different pitches. Proper equipment found at your hearing clinic, and an extensive battery of tests helps determine if there is hearing loss present or not. If you are using a pair of headphones or the speakers on your computer and your neighbor is outside mowing his lawn nearby, it is more than likely that your hearing test is not accurate. An accurate hearing test can only be obtained at a hearing clinic, when conducted by a professional.
Not all Speakers are Made Equal
Speaking of speakers or headphones, another issue in question is the sound level and quality emanating from the devices. Not all speaker units are made equal, and it is hard to know how loud those devices are across a range of pitches or frequencies. When you visit your audiologist, you can be guaranteed the inserts used to test hearing are calibrated and the sound levels measured are accurate.
Your Ears are Unique
In the same way that not all speakers are made equal, all ears are not the same either. The shape of our ears, as well as what’s inside of our ears can affect our hearing. While online tests are a good start, they do not provide the entire picture of our hearing health. A hearing test with an audiologist at a hearing clinic can determine if we have wax or fluid-buildup, as well as inform whether a wax or fluid build-up is causing a temporary hearing loss. Hearing tests at a hearing clinic can actually by-pass the outer and middle portion of the ear, and test the organ of hearing directly, letting us know if the outer and middle part of our ears are preventing sound from coming through. Some people are born with a condition called atresia, where they have very narrow, or no ear canals. Despite this condition, an accurate hearing test is still possible if you go to your audiologist at the local hearing clinic.
Hearing Tests are Best when Conducted by your Audiologist
In short, online hearing tests are a great start as they allow you to start thinking about your hearing and overall hearing health. However, online hearing tests will not provide an accurate representation of your thresholds, or give you a thorough understanding of the health of your hearing system. If you’re curious about your hearing, a trip to your local hearing clinic to see an audiologist won’t hurt (literally and figuratively), and the appointments are often complimentary or have a nominal fee.