The evolution of e-Health and telemedicine has shifted focus from patients coming to the hearing clinic for hearing health evaluation towards the possibility of evaluating the hearing status remotely at home. But is an online hearing test accurate?
The answer is yes, online hearing tests can be accurate, but knowing what to look for is important for finding a test that can properly assess your hearing. Equipping yourself with this knowledge will help you find the best online hearing test.
Why are online hearing tests becoming so popular?
With the rise of the digital age, there has been a dramatic change in the accessibility of everything from groceries to healthcare. This additional convenience extends to hearing care, as it’s possible to easily test your own hearing at home—and even order a hearing aid directly online.
When it comes to online hearing tests, there are a variety of free options that make it easier than ever to get results quickly and at no cost. However, it’s important to understand the limitations as well. Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.
The Pros Online Hearing Tests
People take an average of seven years to make an appointment with a hearing health care provider after suspecting that they may present with a hearing loss. Online tests have provided a solution to bridge the gap in time and incentivize the person to seek professional help that is free of cost and within the comfort of their home.
This naturally highlights the convenience of online tests and the fact that people do not have to take time out of their schedule to set an appointment with a professional and travel to a test facility, making the process less time-consuming.
These tests also provide a sense of reassurance on what can be expected with potential changes in hearing status. The gradual nature of hearing loss often makes it difficult for persons with hearing loss to identify when their quality of hearing is decreasing. Online hearing tests make it incredibly easy for people who suspect they have hearing loss to start the process of learning about their hearing performance.
In other words, it helps the person actively work towards improving their hearing health and general state of well-being.
Taking a digital hearing test in the privacy of the person’s own home may feel less intimidating than making an initial appointment with a professional. This provides the person with time and space to process the results independently, before seeking assistance from a professional.
The Cons of Online Hearing Tests
Possibility of inaccurate results
There is a wide range of online hearing tests available—however, they have not all been developed with clinical accuracy. As a result, this could provide inaccurate test results stating that normal hearing is impaired or vice versa.
Additionally, the results of an online hearing test can be significantly misinterpreted. If the hearing loss is a result of earwax build-up or injury, one may take the wrong steps towards treatment.
Can’t detect the cause
While online hearing tests can detect hearing loss, they will not be able to determine the cause of the hearing loss. In a physical examination, the person will undergo a series of audiological examinations that identify the presence of hearing impairment in addition to other examinations that find out the exact cause behind it. This is particularly important as the treatment will be based on where the hearing loss is stemming from.
No professional tools/opinion
An online hearing test only measures hearing—it does not assess the health of your ears, the state of your bone structure, and other crucial elements of hearing health that a hearing health professional may check.
During a formal hearing test performed by a professional, the intake of your medical and hearing-health history is one of the crucial elements in the diagnosis and management of hearing loss.
With formal testing, a licensed hearing healthcare professional will usually have access to the most cutting-edge technology, including evaluation programs that are capable of testing the person’s hearing capacity in various settings. Moreover, the headphones that they use pass through stringent quality checks to meet the standard set by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute.)
Types of online hearing tests
The use of the internet as a testing platform allows several different types of hearing assessment tests. Online tests can be grouped according to calibrated and non-calibrated tests.
Calibrated tests offer you an indication of your absolute hearing thresholds. This means that the test administered will measure the readings of the test according to a standardized reading. For example, the readings of the test can be measured against the output of the most commonly used headphones or speakers.
If not, additional tools can be supplied or procedures implemented to ensure calibration of the test to ensure that the same readings are obtained. This is how accuracy is achieved with calibrated tests by ensuring that the results obtained are measured against standardized readings.
An example of a calibrated test is a pure tone test, in which tones are presented at different frequencies at different intensities (loud and soft) and the lowest heard tone is recorded as a hearing threshold. The pure tones are measured as a standardized reading by the output of the headphones or speakers used.
Non-calibrated tests are those running without a precise reference level. During these tests, you will often be asked to turn the level of your computer up until you comfortably hear the sounds used for the test. Speech-in-noise (SIN) tests are generally an example of non-calibrated tests.
Which type of online hearing test should I look for?
Several new and novel approaches for hearing assessments using the internet are constantly surfacing—however, the validated tests are based on SIN tests and questionnaires.
Difficulty in understanding speech in noisy situations is often one of the first signs of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This specific hearing disability can be tested more accurately by means of a speech-in-noise test than by traditional pure-tone audiometry.
SIN tests were developed to create more real-world listening scenarios and evaluate a person’s aided performance against a normal performance-intensity function. Digits-in-noise (DIN) tests are commonly used, which are SIN tests that use digit triplets in steady-state speech noise. The test measures primarily the auditory and speech recognition abilities in noise.
SIN tests help you decipher and quantify how much distortional loss there might be. Accuracy in SIN tests is achieved by comparing the signal to noise ratio (SNR). The SIN test involves the evaluation of speech intelligibility in relation to SNR; therefore, the knowledge of the absolute sound level is not required.
As studies show that background noise and a patient’s perception of background annoyance and tolerance can affect hearing aid use, SIN tests can also be used as a positive counseling tool to help patients evaluate their expectations and reach their listening potential.
Many online hearing tests are paired with a number of questions. These questions consist of personal questions and then advance to further questions about lifestyle habits that may influence hearing loss. The questionnaires may vary, but it is recommended to use a questionnaire that has been standardized and validated.
Studies have shown that a self-reported questionnaire-based approach may be used for the assessment of hearing loss and has been proposed as a valid screening method. The accuracy of self-reported hearing loss questionnaires is based on the measure against the standardization of these questionnaires.
Lexie’s Online Hearing Test
How does it work?
Lexie’s free online hearing test is a SIN test that can be taken using any set of headphones or earphones that the person has at home.
It is a digits-in-noise test that presents random numbers in pairs of three with noise in the background. The background noise will either become louder or softer during the test, based on the response of the person being tested to determine their unique ability to understand speech in background noise.
The test determines your speech recognition threshold (in a dB signal-to-noise ratio). This will indicate whether the user may experience difficulty hearing. If the results obtained are reduced, the person is likely to benefit from a hearing aid. Lexie’s hearing experts can then advise the user on the process going forward.
How accurate is it?
Extensive research has been conducted to validate the technology used in the Lexie hearing test. The accuracy of Lexie’s hearing test exceeds 90% and the test can reliably be taken on a PC, tablet, or smartphone with any set of head/earphones.
The screening test has been shown to detect different kinds of hearing losses and can be completed within 2 minutes. The results are highly correlated with pure-tone audiometry thresholds.
Finding the best online hearing test
Online hearing tests may have their limitations, but given the rise of the digital age, they may be the active link towards improved hearing habits for future generations.
Online testing does not provide a comprehensive evaluation that hearing care professionals can offer. Instead, consider online hearing tests as an effective tool as an initial assessment. Understanding the limitations, while knowing what to look out for, will help you find the best online hearing test.
Once you have results, it’s best to seek expert advice from a hearing professional, both to get a clear picture of the situation and to better understand the ideal treatment modalities whether in person or online.