How to Get a Hearing Test Step by Step Guide updated (2022)

man preparing for getting a hearing test at the doctor's office

If you’re having hearing problems, you’re not alone. More than a billion people worldwide have trouble hearing, and many more are at risk. A hearing test is the first step to getting help.

Our guide has all the info you need, including where to get a hearing test, how much it costs, and what to expect.

Where to Get a Hearing Test

These days, you have more testing options than ever before, thanks to new technologies and innovative service models. However, not all hearing tests are created equal. They vary in cost and reliability. Some tests can diagnose hearing loss, while others are for informational purposes only.

Let’s explore some differences among the most common hearing test providers.

Audiologist

You need a professional hearing test for a medical diagnosis. To get one, you must consult a licensed audiologist.

An audiologist is a hearing care professional with advanced training in identifying and treating hearing and balance disorders.

They’ll ask you some questions about your symptoms and administer a battery of tests to determine the type and severity of hearing loss. Depending on the results, they could recommend hearing aids or cochlear implants. They may refer you to a doctor for surgery or medical treatment in some cases.  

To find an audiologist, you can ask your doctor for a referral, search your insurance carrier’s portal for in-network providers, or check the American Academy of Audiology website for audiologists in your area.

ENT Physician

An ENT is a doctor specializing in the ear, nose, and throat conditions. While ENTs can’t perform hearing tests themselves, many have an audiologist on staff to provide testing services.

Getting a hearing evaluation at an ENT is ideal for hearing loss that can be reversed through surgery, such as eardrum ruptures and otosclerosis, a condition caused by the hardening of the tiny bones in the middle ear.  It’s faster and more convenient for the audiologist and the doctor to coordinate care.

Getting a hearing evaluation at an ENT is ideal for hearing loss that can be reversed through surgery.

Wholesale Stores

Bulk stores like Sam’s Club and Costco sell hearing aids and accessories. Many of them feature hearing centers that offer free hearing tests. These tests are conducted by state-licensed hearing aid specialists who use tools similar to those that audiologists have.

However, these specialists aren’t qualified to diagnose hearing loss, but they can conduct a basic assessment of your hearing ability and tell you if you would benefit from hearing aids. They also fit and sell devices in the store. This might be a good option for people with mild hearing loss.

Online Hearing Test

You can get a free hearing test on several websites, such as Resound, Miracle-Ear, and Beltone. An online hearing test involves listening to words and numbers through headphones and selecting the ones you hear on the screen. There may be an additional test to measure your ability to detect sound in the presence of background noise.

Even the best online hearing test isn’t a substitute for a test by a hearing care professional, but it’s a useful screening tool that can help you decide if you need to get your hearing checked by an audiologist.

Phone-Based Hearing Test

You can get a relatively reliable, low-cost hearing screening using the National Hearing Test. This test of hearing ability by the National Institutes of Health uses a phone line. In studies, it successfully detected more than 80 percent of hearing problems that were later verified through traditional testing with pure tones.

While it’s a fast, cheap way to get your hearing checked, you’ll still need to get a professional hearing evaluation if the results show signs of hearing loss. At least one in three screenings generated a false positive.

AARP members get one free test annually, while non-members pay $8 per test.

What to Expect During an Audiology Exam

A professional hearing test by a licensed audiologist takes between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on the types of testing needed. You should plan to spend up to an hour and a half at the office, including check-in and waiting time,

These tests are administered in a quiet setting in a room designed to block outside sounds that might interfere with the accuracy of the test results. An audiologist will ask you some questions about your medical history and symptoms before administering one or more of the following tests:

Pure tone audiometryUsing a tone generator, the tester will play a series of sounds at different pitches and volumes in each ear to determine the softest sound you can hear at each frequency or the hearing threshold level. They will plot the results on a graph called an audiogram that consists of a grid of volumes and frequencies.
Bone conduction testIn this test, the audiologist will send sounds via the air into the ear canal and directly into the bone. A person with normal hearing will hear better through the air. If the opposite is true, then the patient has conductive hearing loss.
Middle ear testsThese tests check to see if parts of the middle ear are functioning normally. Tympanometry measures how the eardrum moves in response to a puff of air. Middle ear muscle reflex tests evaluate how the tiny muscle inside the middle ear tightens in response to sound.
Speech audiometryWhen audiologists detect significant hearing loss, they’ll typically follow up with a test to gauge how much it affects your ability to understand speech. Speech audiometry establishes a threshold based on the softest speech sounds you can fully comprehend.

Pure tone audiometry measures your hearing threshold, the minimum sound level required to determine the presence of sound.

Results and Recommendations

After the test is completed, the audiologist will review the results and discuss the next steps with you based on the type, severity and cause of your hearing loss.

If your hearing loss is caused by something that can be reversed, such as an ear infection, they may refer you to an ENT, who can prescribe medications or perform corrective surgery.

For mild or moderate hearing loss, the audiologist will advise you on treatment options, including hearing aids or personal sound amplification products. You may need to see a specialist, but some audiologists are licensed to dispense these devices. In cases of profound or severe hearing loss, they may suggest cochlear implants.

When to Get a Hearing Test

You should get your hearing tested if you notice one or more of the following signs of hearing loss:

  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Watching TV at a louder volume than your friends and family
  • Difficulty understanding conversations on the phone or in a noisy environment
  • Talking too loud because you can’t gauge the volume of your voice

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should I Get a Routine Hearing Test?

According to the American Speech-Language Association (ASHA), adults should get tested at least once every 10 years and every three years after they turn 50.

Annual testing is suggested for people over 65 and others with a high risk of hearing loss, such as workers with high occupational exposure to loud sounds.

How Much Do Hearing Tests Cost?

On average, a professional hearing test costs around $60 with insurance, but it may vary based on your insurance plan and the test provider. Hearing tests without insurance can cost as much as $250. Before taking a test, you should carefully check your insurance policy, including coverage, copay and deductible for a hearing check-up.

Does Insurance Cover Hearing Tests?

Many basic insurance plans do not cover hearing care unless it is deemed medically necessary. You may need to upgrade your plan or purchase supplemental coverage, and if your carrier does cover testing, you will likely need to see an approved in-network provider. Contact your insurance company.

Conclusion

It’s common for people to delay treating hearing loss because they don’t notice they have a hearing problem or they don’t want to admit it. This is a mistake. Even mild hearing loss can negatively affect your quality of life in subtle but significant ways.

If cost is a concern, there are many low-cost or free ways to get a hearing screening, including online tests and in-person evaluations offered by hearing aid providers. If you have a high risk of hearing impairment due to age or overuse of headphones, you need to be vigilant about your hearing health and take advantage of cheap screening resources.