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There are 48 million Americans with hearing loss, and the impact on their lives is a quiet kind of suffering. Even a minor case of hearing trouble can result in low self-esteem, relationship challenges, social isolation, loneliness, and a host of other challenges.
This is understandable. If we can’t hear what others are saying, we struggle to feel a sense of connection with the people we love, and that leads to loneliness. What isn’t understandable is that some people with hearing loss don’t even realize it. Or worse, they never connect the dots to discover that hearing loss is the reason for their feelings of social isolation.
That’s why getting a hearing test – and treating your hearing loss with a hearing aid when necessary – is one of the best decisions you can make when trying to improve the quality of your life. Even better, with the wide range of free online hearing tests available, you can get a basic evaluation of your hearing in just a few minutes.
Are You Ignoring Your Hearing Loss?
Whether you’re struggling to understand conversations at parties, getting lost when listening to instructions – or you find yourself saying “what” and “pardon me” all the time – it’s important to remember that hearing loss appears so gradually that some people don’t even know they have it. At least, not until their friends and close relatives start to complain.
But even in the face of complaining relatives, many of us try to hide the fact we’re having trouble hearing. Why would someone ignore their hearing problem when it makes life more difficult? A German study on hearing loss notes that many downplay the extent of their hearing loss for the following, perfectly understandable reasons:
“Individuals establish and maintain social identity through interaction with others and use different strategies to appear ‘normal’ and non-deviant. Hearing impairments are often associated, in a prejudicial way, with being physically old or mentally slow. Because of these stigmas, many hearing-impaired persons possibly feel reluctant to acknowledge or recognize their own hearing problems in order to protect their own self-image (Martin et al. 2000; Hétu 1996; Hallberg 1992; Hétu et al. 1990).”
Unfortunately, the strategy of ignoring – or hiding – a hearing problem doesn’t address the core problems that arise from hearing loss (communication challenges, relationship difficulties, social isolation, and poor work performance). Instead of helping these problems, failing to acknowledge hearing loss only makes them worse.
What happens when we don’t respond empathically or intelligently because we missed the subtle nuances of tone in someone’s voice? People start to perceive us as distant, aloof, arrogant, unfriendly, disinterested, or unintelligent – and the world responds to us differently. People aren’t as kind to us anymore. We might even stop getting invitations to social gatherings. And, we may not understand the reasons why.
A study from the National Council on Aging offers data to support the idea that people treat us differently when we suffer from hearing loss:
“Another measure of emotional distress is the perception that ‘other people get angry at me for no reason,’ which psychologists often identify as an indicator of paranoia. People with untreated hearing problems may well sense anger directed at them ‘for no reason’ as they misinterpret what they hear or as they have to ask people to repeat what they are saying... Those who do not use hearing aids were nearly twice as likely to agree that ‘people get angry with me usually for no reason’ [13% of hearing aid users agreed with the statement versus 24% of non-users]. Among those with more severe hearing loss, the difference between users and non-users [of hearing aids] is even greater [14% of hearing aid users agreed with the statement versus 36% of non-users].”
Ultimately, being treated differently compounds our feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and sadness – making life more difficult for people with untreated hearing loss. Especially considering that most hearing loss patients wait five to seven years before getting help, that’s a lot of unnecessary suffering.
When Should You Take an Online Hearing Test?
For most people with moderate to severe hearing loss, taking an online hearing test will simply confirm what you already knew. But if you’re not sure – or if you’re having trouble convincing your spouse to take a test – the following list of hearing loss indicators will help. Does anything sound familiar?
● You find yourself turning your ear to face people so you can hear them better.
● You’re constantly asking people to repeat themselves and speak a little louder.
● It seems like a lot of people are “mumbling” instead of speaking clearly.
● Close family members and friends suggest that you might be suffering from hearing loss.
● Background noises in social situations make it difficult to understand speech.
● You participate less in group conversations – if you participate at all.
● You confuse one word for another when people are talking, and sometimes you don’t catch the exact meaning of what people said.
● You find yourself getting tired, stressed, and frustrated while struggling to understand conversations – especially when background noise is present.
● You experience frequent arguments with your spouse over things you didn’t understand.
● Your spouse gets frustrated when you ask him or her to repeat things.
● Your spouse is always telling you to turn down the volume on the TV and the car stereo.
● You’re over the age of 60. A recent study found that “approximately half of persons in their seventh decade (60 to 69 years of age) and 80% who are 85 years of age or older have hearing loss that is severe enough to affect daily communication.”
If you resonate with any of the above, you might want to get a hearing test.
The Risks of Not Taking a Hearing Test
Even if you don’t relate to the above-listed items, consider spending five minutes taking a free online hearing test (or phone-based hearing test) – because it could prevent you from unknowingly living with the burdens and dangers of untreated hearing loss. According to a 2017 study, “Hearing Loss in Adults,” individuals with hearing loss endure the following risks and difficulties:
● Impaired communication that leads to relationship difficulties with friends, family, and coworkers.
● Indirect health, economic, social, and psychological challenges that result in lower quality of life and social isolation.
● Higher rates of death, hospitalization, falls, and frailty.
● Greater instances of depression and dementia even after factoring in the risks for these conditions.
● Increased chances of unemployment, underemployment, and lower incomes than those with normal hearing.
● Higher annual health care costs for middle-aged adults compared to those with normal hearing.
Also, according to research cited by the American Academy of Audiology: “Significantly more of the seniors with untreated hearing loss (those who do not wear hearing aids) reported feelings of sadness or depression that lasted two or more weeks during the previous years. Among respondents with more severe hearing loss, 30% of non-users of hearing aids reported these sad feelings, compared to 22% of hearing aid users.”
Because people with untreated hearing loss experience more depression and other health difficulties, James Firman, EdD, CEO of The National Council on Aging, said it’s a “myth that hearing loss in older persons is a harmless condition.”
Fortunately, testing your hearing – and treating hearing loss when discovered – achieves a lot more than only relieving the negative impacts of the condition. Once treated, hearing loss patients report a number of improvements in the quality of their lives. The American Academy of Audiology cites the following improvement areas for patients who treat their hearing loss:
Moreover, this above research is just the tip of the iceberg. We can also cite these scientific studies to support the quality of life benefits that come from testing and treating hearing loss (and there are many more):
● Impact of Hearing Aid Technology on Outcomes in Daily Life I: the Patients’ Perspective
● Hearing Aids for Adults: Benefits and Costs
● A Comparative Study on Hearing Aid Benefits of Digital Hearing Aid Use (BTE) from Six Months to Two Years
● Sustained Benefits of Hearing Aids
● Evaluating the Benefit of Hearing Aids in Solving the Cocktail Party Problem
● Wearing Hearing Aids May Help Protect the Brain in Later Life
With all of these benefits – and the fact you can complete an online hearing test faster than you can read this article – why not satisfy your curiosity and give it a try?
Note from the writer: I’ve already taken the online hearing test from MDHearingAid and a phone-based speech in noise test at FreeHearingTest.org several times, and I’ve gotten my friends and family to take them too. I passed in the “normal” range, but several friends found out they have mild to moderate hearing loss – and now they’re looking into treatment options. Incidentally, these friends have been asking me to repeat myself for years!
Which Online Hearing Test Should You Take?
By searching “free online hearing tests” with Google, you’ll find a lot of websites offering ways to evaluate your hearing. Some of these tests come from reputable hearing clinics and hearing aid manufacturers. Others are not so trustworthy, and they may give you misleading results – so you need to choose your hearing test wisely.
How can you tell if you’re dealing with a quality test? Try answering the following questions. The more times you answer “yes,” the higher quality the test:
● Is the website from a reputable company? Most well-known hearing aid brands offer a free hearing test on their websites. If you’re not sure about the hearing aid brand, check the website to make sure they sell “FDA registered hearing aids.” If it’s a hearing clinic or another kind of business, make sure they have an audiologist or audio engineer on staff who vouches for the hearing test.
● Did audiologists and sound engineers create the test? The best hearing tests on the internet were designed by sound engineers and audiologists, who worked together to overcome the limitations of a setup that uses home-based equipment. For example, everyone has different headphones, so an internet-based test needs to implement strategies to prevent variances in the sounds that come out of your particular headphones.
● Does the test look professional and provide easy-to-follow instructions? The test should have a professional look and feel, and the user interface and instructions should be simple and easy to follow. If the test is loaded up with advertisements and spam, don’t waste your time.
● Did they provide advice about what to do next? A good online hearing test will provide you with some advice and tips on how to use the results. For example, if the test determined that you suffer from mild, moderate, severe, or profound hearing loss, it should give you some advice on potential treatment options depending on the result. The test may also recommend that those with severe and profound hearing loss should visit an audiologist for a more accurate evaluation of their conditions.
● Do they admit to the limitations of the test? Although an online hearing test can offer some excellent feedback to tell you whether you may be suffering from hearing loss, the results should not be seen as conclusive. The best online hearing test providers will be forthcoming about this and encourage you to visit an audiologist or hearing clinic to take an in-person test in a controlled environment.
As I mentioned above, I personally like the online hearing test from MDHearingAid – and so do the friends and family who took it with me. This test satisfies all of the above conditions. Since it’s an “air-conduction” or “tone-based” hearing test, you’ll listen to different tones and sound frequencies.
Visit the MDHearingAid test here.
I also liked the phone-based speech in noise test at FreeHearingTest.org. It’s an entirely different kind of screening that determines how well you can understand speech in noisy environments. European countries have been using phone-based tests like this for years, and their accuracy is backed by legitimate science. According to one peer-reviewed study: “Telephone tests provide efficient, easy to use, and valid screening for functional hearing impairment. The results of this test are a reasonable basis for advising those who fail to seek a comprehensive hearing evaluation by an audiologist.”
Visit the FreeHearingTest.org test here.
These tests are quick, easy, and best of all, they’re free. Taking both will give you a well-rounded picture of your overall hearing health.
What Are the Disadvantages of Online Hearing Tests?
Online hearing tests can tell you whether you may or may not have hearing loss and whether the hearing loss is mild, moderate, severe, or profound. However, they cannot provide a definitive medical diagnosis. Moreover, they can’t tell you how to prescriptively tune the amplification settings on a hearing aid according to your specific hearing loss profile. For that, you’ll need to go to a hearing clinic for a professional audiogram.
Another disadvantage of free hearing tests is that they cannot tell you about the cause of your hearing loss. This could be a problem if a potentially serious health condition remains undiagnosed because you didn’t visit a doctor. For example, you might not discover that you suffer from a type of hearing loss that doctors can treat through surgery and other therapies.
According to Audiologist Kristina Trout:
“At a minimum, an additional test of hearing sensitivity using “bone conduction” testing is needed to determine “where” the hearing loss is located. Specialized equipment is necessary to evaluate hearing through this type of testing, which is completed using a specialized headset that can measure sound transmitted through bone. This equipment is not available for home computer systems. Bone conduction testing is the only way to determine if the individual has a medically treatable hearing loss or one which would benefit from amplification [such as through hearing aids].”
With this caveat in mind, free hearing tests can provide valuable feedback regarding the quality of your hearing in just a few minutes, without a visit to the doctor. They can also indicate whether an affordable pair of direct-to-consumer hearing aids may be a good match for your needs.
In this way, internet- and phone-based hearing tests are empowering cash-strapped patients to save thousands of dollars by evaluating and treating their hearing loss on their own. Armed with the results of an online hearing test, patients can completely bypass expensive hearing clinics and purchase affordable, medical-grade direct-to-consumer hearing aids for 90% less than the cost of buying hearing aids from a clinic.
How to Achieve the Best Hearing Test Results
At a hearing clinic, audiologists conduct hearing tests by having you sit in a small booth and using medical-grade sound equipment to evaluate your hearing. Since you’ll be taking your online hearing test at home, you’ll want to mimic the controlled conditions of a professional hearing test as well as you can. This will render more accurate and useful results.
Here are some tips for getting the best results from your online hearing test:
● Use high-quality headphones if possible: Low-quality headphones could interfere with accurate test results, so if you have different ones to choose from, use the best quality headphones you have available.
● Adjust the volume on your headphones: Some online hearing tests ask you to turn the volume all the way up on your headphones. Others have you turn the volume halfway up. Follow these directions carefully to ensure accurate results.
● Make sure you’re in a quiet environment: Close your doors and windows, turn off the air conditioner and washing machine, deactivate your phone, and make sure there won’t be any noise disturbances or interruptions while you take the test.
● Complement the online test with a phone-based speech-in-noise test: In addition to your online hearing test, consider taking the phone-based speech-in-noise test from FreeHearingTest.org. This will provide you with additional insight into the nature of your hearing loss – for a more accurate and well-rounded picture of your condition.
Are You Ready to Take the Test?
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably ready to take a hearing test. So, which one do I recommend? If you haven’t guessed, I think you should try the free hearing test from MDHearingAid. I took quite a few tests on the internet and found that MDHearingAid’s version was probably the easiest and most convenient of them all. Plus, MDHearingAid worked closely with audiologists and sound engineers to custom-build their test to achieve the most accurate results possible.
I got in touch with the Chief Audiologist at MDHearingAid, Dr. Sandra Porps, to ask her what made the MDHearingAid test unique. Here’s what she said:
“From an audiological standpoint, MDHearingAid’s test is very easy to use, very accurate, and it provides an audiogram that details results, and highlights the sound frequency ranges that you have the most trouble hearing. We rigorously tested it against an audiologist-administered hearing test, and the MDHearingAid test scored within the 5-decibel accuracy range. That means the test results can vary by 5 decibels when someone retakes the test. This accuracy range is considered to be the minimum standard of quality for an audiological hearing test/retest. Our evaluations of the test were done in a quiet room to simulate the conditions in which our online test should be taken.”
Dr. Porps also said that it’s important to remember that the MDHearingAid test is a “tone based, air-conduction only” test (this means that the test uses headphones to evaluate your ability to hear different tones and frequencies). In this respect, an air-conduction test can’t substitute for a comprehensive, in-person hearing test administered by an audiologist in a controlled environment. An in-person test is advised when a doctor suspects that middle ear (or retrocochlear) problems are the cause of the hearing loss. In other words, the MDHearingAid test shows how well you can hear, but it can’t detect the presence of an underlying medical condition.
Another benefit of the online test from MDHearingAid is that it comes with a free consultation with a licensed hearing professional. On this point, CEO of MDHearingAid, Doug Breaker, said the following: “The opportunity to do a free consult with a licensed hearing professional to talk about your hearing test is a big advantage – one that’s rarely seen in other online hearing tests.”
Personally, I like the fact that the MDHearingAid test only takes five minutes, so it was easy to get my friends and family to evaluate their hearing with me. Everyone in my family has now taken the test, and it’s been fun listening to them compare their results and talk about whether their right or left ears have better hearing. One family member plans to take his computer into the closet and redo the test for the most accurate results!
After completing the MDHearingAid test, you’ll receive a simple overview of the results. Here are the results that one of my family members received:
You’ll also receive an audiogram that shows which sound frequencies you could be struggling to hear. The next image is the audiogram for my friend, who has high-frequency hearing loss in both ears. Notice how the report includes tips for interpreting the information:
Of course, if you have any questions about your test results – or about MDHearingAid’s products – you can always call them at (833) 548-0616 to speak with their on-staff hearing professionals for free.
Last but not least, I also like the phone-based speech-in-noise test at FreeHearingTest.org. After taking both of these tests, you’ll have a clear understanding of your overall hearing condition.
Final Thoughts on Internet-Based Hearing Tests
Hearing loss impacts nearly every part of our lives, including our emotional and psychological well-being, self-esteem, relationships, social skills, work performance, and even our physical health. Indeed, when we can’t hear the world around us, we’re more at risk of being involved in an accident; we can’t compete as well in the office; and, we struggle to communicate with the people we love. All this can lead to deep feelings of isolation, loneliness, and poor health – but it doesn’t have to be that way.
When you make an effort to test your hearing, whether it’s online or in a clinic, you’re doing something that could dramatically improve your quality of life – because the faster you identify your hearing loss, the sooner you can overcome its challenges.
Fascinated by emerging science, Jeremy Hillpot’s background in consumer litigation and technology offers a unique perspective on the latest developments in medical science, agrotechnology, blockchain, data engineering, app development, and the law. Contact Jeremy at jhillpot@legalwritingFINRA.com or follow him on Quora.