How to Check your Hearing? Step by Step Guide

senior man touching his ear to detect ear problems

Hearing loss affects millions of people in the United States and more than a billion worldwide. You might be one of them, but how do you know? Hearing loss is typically progressive and gradual, so the signs can be easy to miss.  

This guide will tell you how to get your hearing checked, including all the details about professional and at-home testing.

Online Hearing Tests

If you notice a hearing problem, you might try self-screening at home before making an appointment with a doctor or getting a professional hearing test. Many websites offer a free hearing test online.

You can try Resound’s hearing test online. They recommend that you wear headphones and take the test in a quiet place. During the test, you will hear a set of words followed by numbers.

You will have to tap the corresponding word or number you heard on the screen. The test will also measure your hearing ability in the presence of background noise.

Online tests aren’t a substitute for a professional test, but they’re an excellent first step. You still need a diagnosis.

Audiologists have the specialized equipment required to identify types of hearing loss and are qualified to provide medical advice on treatment options.

Phone-Based Testing

You can also try the National Hearing Test developed by Communication Disorders Technology with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. This phone-based test is effective at identifying all types of hearing loss.

The test is fairly reliable as a screening tool.

One study found that it correctly detected hearing loss in 87 percent of veterans who had their impairment confirmed through in-person pure tone audiometry.

However, it has an estimated false positive rate of up to 45 percent.

The test costs $8 through the National Hearing Test website, but you can take it annually for free if you are an AARP member. This test should be considered for information purposes only. You will still need to see a hearing specialist.

Diagnosing Hearing Loss

Depending on your circumstances, you may need to see several medical professionals to determine the type, severity and cause of your hearing loss. In many cases, you’ll start with an examination by your family doctor. 

Medical Check-up

A general practitioner can treat some root causes of hearing loss, such as ear infections and wax buildup. If you suspect you have some form of medically reversible hearing impairment, see your doctor before talking to a hearing care professional.

Moreover, your health care provider may require you to get a referral before getting a hearing test.

 Your doctor will:

  • Review medical history and medications
  • Ask you about your symptoms
  • Look inside your ear canal for blockage, growths or damage
  • Perform a complete physical exam                      

Seeing an Audiologist

To get a definitive diagnosis, you need to consult with someone who specializes in identifying, categorizing and measuring hearing loss.

An audiologist will ask you about your medical history and administer hearing tests to determine the type and severity of impairment.

An audiologist will check each ear separately to see if hearing loss is present in one or both ears —unilateral or bilateral—and if it’s more pronounced in one ear. This is useful to pin down the type and underlying cause. For example, sensorineural hearing loss is frequently bilateral.

Types of Professional Hearing Tests

An audiologist has several ways to test how well your ears work and check the function of your middle ear parts.

Tympanometry

The audiologist will run a test called tympanometry to assess the movement of your eardrum. To do this test, a device that pushes air will be inserted into your ear.

If your other test results point to a problem in the middle ear, a hearing specialist may want to take a closer look at your eardrum.

A tympanometry test sends air into your ear canal to see if your eardrum is too flexible or stiff.

You may have a tear or hole that needs to be repaired surgically.

Pure tone audiometry

A pure tone test measures your ability to hear sound waves at different volumes.

The audiologist will play sounds with different pitches and adjust the volume to determine the softest sounds you can hear at each frequency. They will note the results on a grid called an audiogram test or chart.

Bone conduction test

An audiologist may check for conductive hearing loss by using a tuning fork or tone generator to send tones through the bone and air. People with normal hearing usually hear sounds transmitted via air conduction better. Those with conductive hearing loss hear better through the bone.

Acoustic reflex testing 

This diagnostic test measures the reflex response of muscles in the middle ear.

Otoacoustic emissions testing:

The hair cells of the inner ear respond to sound by vibrating. These vibrations can be measured to check for signs of hearing loss.

This is an objective test used to screen newborns and pre-verbal children who can’t participate in pure tone testing.

Speech Testing

If an audiologist determines that you have hearing loss, they may check to see how it affects your ability to communicate by playing normal speech sounds at different volumes to determine the softest speech you can understand.

When To Get a Hearing Test

People often underestimate their hearing loss or don’t realize that they have it. Here are some signs:

  • You frequently ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You watch TV at a louder volume than your family members.
  • You can’t understand speech in a noisy environment, such as a restaurant, metro station, or party.
  • You struggle with conversations on the phone.
  • People often tell you to lower your voice.

Routine Testing for Hearing Loss

Early detection can help you keep hearing loss from getting worse, so it’s a good idea to get tested regularly.

Adults with normal hearing should get tested every five to 10 years. After 50, you should increase the frequency to every three to five years.

Experts recommend annual testing for the following groups:

  • Workers routinely exposed to loud noises, such as construction workers and military personnel
  • Seniors over age 65
  • People already diagnosed with hearing loss

Workers routinely exposed to loud noises, such as construction workers and military personnel should get their hearing tested every year to prevent hearing loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Insurance Cover Hearing Tests?

Coverage varies, but many standard health plans do not include hearing care. It’s often sold as an add-on like dental or vision coverage.

Some plans like Medicare Part B may cover a hearing test if your doctor orders it and it’s deemed medically necessary. Contact your insurance carrier to find out more about your coverage and options.

How Much Do Hearing Tests Cost?

A hearing test costs $60 with insurance on average, depending on the clinic, practitioner, and insurance company. If you don’t have insurance or your provider doesn’t cover hearing, expect to pay as much as $250. Ask your insurance company about coverage, copays, and deductibles before scheduling a hearing test.

How Do I Get a Hearing Test?

To get tested, you need to schedule an appointment with a licensed audiologist. The American Academy of Audiology website has a searchable database to help you find one in your area. If your insurance plan covers hearing, you should check with your provider to locate one in your network.

Do I Need a Hearing Test to Get a Hearing Aid?

Yes.

You need a professional diagnosis to get hearing aids. The hearing test results are essential for programming and adjusting the devices.

Also, hearing aids may not be suitable. People with mild hearing loss might opt for cheaper personal amplification devices, while those with profound or severe hearing loss might require cochlear implants.

Conclusion

Hearing loss can significantly impact your quality of life. Many people who might benefit from treatment don’t seek help because they’re unaware of how bad the problem is.

If you suspect you have hearing loss, a free online or phone test can help you decide your next steps. Depending on your initial hearing test results, you may want to follow up with a hearing professional.

Older adults have a greater risk for age-related hearing loss, so you’ll need to get tested often after 50 and annually past 65. If you frequently wear earphones or have high occupational exposure to loud sounds, you should also test regularly.