Can a telephone hearing test deliver accurate results?


Like most people, you probably have a lot of reasons you haven’t gotten your hearing checked. You’re too busy. You don’t know which hearing professional to choose. Your hearing isn’t “that bad”.

Close-up on desktop phone
This short telephone test 

uses a signal of speech in

noise to test your hearing.

Most people, however, wait entirely too long to get their hearing checked. The average time in between onset of hearing difficulties and getting a hearing exam is 7 to 10 years; and that translates to valuable time lost, including time you could spend in conversation with loved ones or you could spend doing hobbies or activities you enjoy.

Untreated hearing loss also leads to health issues such as depression, social isolation and cognitive decline. One study, done at Johns Hopkins, revealed that the cognitive abilities of those with untreated hearing loss declined at a rate 30 to 40 percent faster than those without hearing loss. But there is good news: now there is a test you can without leaving home.

To be fair, there are other telephone hearing tests, but in a home environment these pure-tone telephone tests can sometimes fall short of delivering accurate results due to a lack of standardization in the audio quality of telephones. Fortunately, a non-profit organization has come up with a different to way to determine whether you might have hearing loss, one that addresses accuracy issues as well as convenience.

National Hearing Test has developed a telephone hearing test which is based on a more realistic hearing scenario. Instead of just a series of beeps in varying tones and volumes, the telephone hearing test gauges your ability to accurately discern speech within background noise. The telephone test, previously used in the Netherlands, is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The creators of the telephone hearing test realize that denial is a common tactic when it comes to hearing loss. “They say, ‘My wife mumbles,’ and ‘All the restaurants have gotten too noisy these days’ and ‘My grandchildren don’t articulate,” says Dr. Charles Watson, the principal investigator for the National Hearing Test. “This sort of thing almost never happens if someone thinks their vision is a problem, because in the case of vision you have all these objective pieces of evidence around you. The New York Times font hasn’t gotten smaller. It’s you.”

In order to encourage more people to get their hearing screened, the scientifically validated test is free for AARP members for a limited time; others simply pay a $5.00 fee. Thus far it has been a success, with tens of thousands of people availing themselves of the service since its introduction in this country in 2013.

Here is how it works: After entering your AARP number or credit card number, you’ll be given an easy to use access code along with a toll free number. Once you call the number and enter the code, an automated voice will guide you through the process. Starting with the right ear, you will be given a series of three digit codes delivered in a noisy background similar to static. You will punch in the 3 digit codes as you hear them. After the test is completed for both ears, the automated voice will let you know the results of each ear, i.e. whether hearing is in the normal range, slightly below normal, or significantly below normal.

The test doesn’t take much time, as it is only about 10 minutes start to finish. It is also easy to both understand and follow the instructions.

Full disclosure: I took the test myself, and in the end, despite my inability to hear a few of the very faintest numbers, my hearing is within the normal range for someone my age. But I was fully prepared to make the decision to see a hearing care professional for follow up if it turned out my hearing was below normal.

Keep in mind that telephone or online hearing tests should not be considered replacements to hearing exams given by hearing care professionals. They are, however, useful tools when it comes to getting a baseline or keeping track of any changes in your hearing. And if you happen to get a result that indicates below normal hearing, be sure to see a hearing care professional right away for a full exam and to explore your options for treatment.

We invite you to take our online quiz to find out if you might need a hearing test in the first place. It is a series of questions designed to gauge if, or how, hearing loss may be impacting your life. Once you take the quiz, if you feel you need more of a push before seeing a professional, take the telephone test. The results will not only give you a baseline for your hearing health, but will let you know if there are further steps you need to take regarding potential treatment. Our online directory of hearing care providers can direct you to a professional in your area if you need an appointment or have any questions.


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