Hearing problems rarely appear overnight – if they did, people with hearing loss probably wouldn’t take an average of 7 years before receiving a proper assessment. Even people who know they have a problem may not realize the extent of their hearing loss. According to one study, up to 42% of people over 60 underestimate the severity of their hearing issues.
Should everyone just book an appointment with an audiologist and pay for a professional hearing test? Even in an ideal world (one where insurance coverage and economics didn’t play a role), this would probably be impractical.
Fortunately, technological and societal changes mean that today you can test your hearing online. All you need is an internet-connected device and a good test. So which online hearing test is best? The purpose of this guide is to help you identify the best online hearing test for you -- we have tried them ourselves and we’ll share all of the important details here.
The first and maybe most important detail is that all of the most recommendable online hearing tests are actually very similar in their approaches and are either designed or hosted by good hearing aid companies. The two biggest goals should be to avoid subpar tests (because they lead to subpar results) and to choose a test connected with a company that will help connect you to the most valuable consultation and hearing aids for your needs, if the test in fact shows that you need help.
Toward that end, here’s a snapshot of our top picks without further delay.
MDHearingAid -- a trusted hearing aid manufacturer -- offers a sophisticated tone test designed by professional sound engineers.
It’s a very convenient test for checking your hearing periodically in order to detect mild to moderate hearing loss. If you discover hearing loss, MDHearingAid can serve you with incredibly affordable devices, since the company controls the entire process from manufacturing to sales.
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Common signs of hearing loss include:
The insidious thing about hearing loss is that it usually occurs very gradually. This makes it easy to overlook until the loss is pronounced. Only 20% of people with mild to moderate hearing loss realize it on their own. Unfortunately those who don’t recognize the loss may never seek help.
For most people with hearing loss, they (or loved ones) eventually notice one or more of the aforementioned signs one day and realize the condition probably has been happening for a period of time. If this describes you, then an online hearing test is a great place to begin your journey toward identifying a problem and improving your situation.
Online hearing tests are valuable if:
There are cases in which hearing loss is not gradual, but instead rapid and more alarming. If that describes your situation -- and especially if you notice the loss in one ear -- then an online hearing test should not be your first step. Instead, you should promptly go to a medical center to be seen by a health professional in person for evaluation.
Most of the best online hearing tests are created or hosted by hearing aid manufacturers. This is not a red flag in and of itself. In fact, this can be a valuable source of convenience if you end up needing a correction for your hearing. The important thing is to make sure that the test makers have invested in the necessary ways to achieve good quality.
So how can you identify a high-quality online hearing test? Here are some important characteristics:
Does the test benefit from the input of professionals with deep knowledge of sound and hearing? Some tests are made by neuroscientists, others by audiologists or sound engineers. For all of these professionals, how humans perceive sound is fundamental, making them excellent partners in designing a high-quality hearing test.
Though an online hearing test can't be a total replacement for visiting a doctor's office for a full physical evaluation, you can learn much more and get more meaningful results when a test.
There should be specific instructions regarding how to take the test, and how to get the best results. The test should not feel like a clickbait quiz meant to waste time as a fun diversion.
The test will be most valuable if an actual hearing care specialist will be available for a live consultation to go over your results if you want or need it.
If you are taking an online hearing test, the ultimate purpose is to know if your hearing could be improved and to find out conveniently. In 2023, we want the additional convenience of being offered recommendations to expedite that process, if indeed a hearing aid is advisable.
Are the test-makers transparent about limitations and honest when the testing results are inconclusive? There are many online hearing tests that you can find for free, and not every test will be so honest, unfortunately. If the test claims to do everything that an in-person physical examination could do, you shouldn’t trust it.
At their core, online hearing tests are a version of the ones you would get at an audiologist’s office. These tests expose you to a variety of sounds to see what your ear can detect and understand. The experience will seem quite familiar to those of us who have undergone a hearing test in the office.
Most online hearing tests fall into one of these two categories:
At an audiologist’s office, you would likely undergo similar tests followed by more specialized screening. For example, a bone conduction test would often be used to see if there is something physically blocking your ear canal (such as wax or fluid). These tests usually entail a physical examination or specialized equipment, so they are not available online.
Online hearing tests can provide an accurate snapshot of the quality of your hearing. Any of the best online hearing tests -- and certainly those that we recommend -- are designed to help you discover if you have hearing loss as well as provide information about the degree of hearing loss you are experiencing (mild, moderate or severe).
You may or may not realize you have some hearing loss. Either way, an online hearing test is a very useful tool. These tests offer a convenient way to check your hearing proactively in order to keep tabs on your health and quickly identify changes occurring.
When used properly, online tone tests are useful for people who already know they have a hearing problem but want to monitor their progress. These tests provide specific information regarding pitches and volume ranges, which helps you understand how your hearing is evolving.
Here is what these tests can't do:
Most online hearing tests begin with a short survey meant to provide some basic background information. Almost all tests begin by asking your gender and age, as this will affect the “normal” range they will use to evaluate you. For example, a 20-year-old will be expected to detect very high-pitched noises that a 65-year-old would not. Tests may also ask about your ability or comfort with certain situations (for example, house parties). Then, you will get a chance to test the audio setup of your computer or laptop.
If you are taking a speech and noise test, you will then hear a series of words or short conversations. These usually move from easier (louder, with no background noises) to harder (with very loud static noise or confusing words). After each word or audio clip, you will be asked to identify an object or a specific piece of information.
If you are taking a tone test, you will hear a series of sounds on one ear at a time. Tests usually begin with low-pitched sounds at a high volume and then end with high-pitched ones at a low volume. Some of the more thorough online hearing tests may include both a speech section and a tone section.
After you finish the test, you will probably be redirected to a page showing your results. Sometimes, the testing company will email your results to you after a few minutes.
Most online hearing test results are relatively easy to interpret, especially if they were normal. If the test found something wasn’t quite right, don’t expect to see any complex charts: most will use bar graphs, star-based ratings, or simple descriptions. The best tests can provide separate results for each ear and will flag specific types of sounds that seem to be especially troublesome for you.
These online tests are only meant for screening. If you got abnormal or “inconclusive” results, you will probably need to see an audiologist in person. He or she will investigate the case and provide you with an adequate solution – which may include a hearing aid.
Online hearing tests don’t offer the controlled, standardized environments of a professional audiology office. It’s up to you to mimic these conditions; otherwise your results could be affected. Good tests will provide clear instructions, which you should be sure to follow.
This should be free of any background music or humming noises (such as A/C machines, water pumps, or busy streets). Close the windows and alert the rest of the house to keep it down for a few minutes
Even if the whole house is quiet, you could ruin a speech-based test by keeping your mobile device in the room or even set to vibrate in your coat pocket. Prevent all distractions.
Importantly, you should also turn the volume on your computer to 50% unless otherwise instructed. The best tests -- such as the one from our top recommendation, MDHearingAid -- will tell you the optimal volume setting for their test. If not, though, be safe at first and set it to 50%, because more than that in some tests could be painful during the “high pitched” section of the test, or it may mask some of your hearing loss.
An online hearing test often will work decently with good-quality speakers, headsets, or earbuds, but some require a headset. Even for the tests that give you an option, if you want to be able to test your hearing on each ear (recommended) then you will need a headset of some kind. Low quality of the headset could translate to low quality of hearing test results – we’ve all used low-quality wireless earphones that cut in and out. That could seriously hamper your testing.
BEST OVERALL & BEST FOR THOSE ON A BUDGET
The hearing test from MDHearingAid is lengthier than some other tests, which can only last around three minutes. By contrast, MDHearingAid's test takes closer to ten minutes but is worth the extra time commitment. This test was designed by professional sound engineers to gauge your hearing across multiple frequencies.
You'll need a good headset, a quiet room with no distractions, and volume set to maximum because the tone pulses drop quite a bit in volume. Test results will tell you whether each of your ears is healthy in hearing or instead suffering from low, moderate, severe or profound hearing loss.
Because it is a sophisticated tone test, this test is very useful for all of us who want to check our hearing frequently and proactively in order to identify any changes or hearing loss as soon as possible. This is a good, healthy practice that we recommend. MDHearingAid's test will also be very useful for people who have been diagnosed with hearing loss to assess their hearing improvements or to keep track of further hearing loss.
If your testing shows a loss in hearing, then the benefits continue with MDHearingAid. One of the primary reasons this is our top pick is that the company manufactures and sells its hearing aids directly to you. You have one single company helping you with all of this, streamlining the process. Because MDHearingAid controls manufacturing and sales, the company can offer its hearing aids at much lower prices than competitors. The entire process can happen remotely online. If you prefer to call rather than order online, you can get help choosing the right model or get assistance with your order by dialing MDHearingAid at 1-800-315-6284.
To learn more, check out our full MDHearingAid review.
BEST FOR LOVED ONES IN DENIAL
Signia's hearing test is both versatile and effective at indicating the extent of hearing loss. You can perform this online hearing test with speakers or a headset, though a headset allows you to take full advantage of the test; with a headset, Signia will test both of your ears.
The test is brief, but effective at discerning different degrees of hearing loss, including mild to moderate hearing loss. Signia utilizes "fake words" and background noises of varying loudness. Signia's words deliberately contain easily mistaken consonants, making it ideal for convincing a reluctant loved one to seek help.
Using fake words with consonants of this kind, along with cumbersome background noise, means that the brain can't anticipate a next sound. All of this adds up to a pretty realistic experience, like what you might feel in a crowded cafe.
BEST FOR SEVERE HEARING LOSS & BEST FOR TINNITUS
ReSound's hearing test is both versatile and effective at indicating the extent of hearing loss. You can perform this online hearing test with speakers or a headset, though a headset allows you to take full advantage of the test; with a headset, ReSound will test both of your ears.
The online hearing test is brief, but effective at discerning different degrees of hearing loss, including severe or profound loss (which is more severe than severe). With multiple kinds of background noise of varying volume and a set of images -- trees, cars, a book and others -- as well as numbers, ReSound prompts you to identify the words or numbers in the order in which you hear them. This is a good test for identifying severe or profound hearing loss because your selection is limited to what you can see and, with a few exceptions, the numbers and words do not sound much alike normally.
If you have difficulty hearing the clues and the results indicate severe to profound hearing loss, ReSound will connect you with a care specialist who will help you find a professional in your area to help further diagnose your hearing loss and fit you with a hearing aid (or a pair). Starting with ReSound is a good decision because they have a variety of models that suit people with severe to profound hearing loss.
And if you have tinnitus, which is often accompanied by hearing loss, ReSound is a good partner because their hearing aid options include sophisticated Tinnitus Therapy features.
Our team has done a lot of research to provide you with an accurate picture of what to expect from good online hearing tests. They can be very useful in many situations, but not all of the time. An online hearing test is not suitable in any emergent health situation, but rather is a useful tool if your hearing loss is likely gradual.
If you are noticing surprising and dramatic changes -- for instance, you might be concerned about a pronounced and sudden reduction in your hearing -- then you should go see an in-person doctor now! Do not wait or take a test.
If you have an underlying health condition that could be responsible for your hearing loss or other symptoms you are experiencing, you should also be seen by a physician -- in-person or online -- rather than only taking the test. An in-person doctor would likely be best, but if you want to pursue telemedicine and see an online doctor first in hopes of saving an in-person trip, then you can visit our guide to the best online doctors for advice about which telemedicine company can meet your needs within your budget.
Online hearing tests are a good starting point, but they can’t fully replace an in-person visit because an online experience cannot include certain types of testing or a physical examination.
Most audiologists and ENTs, during an in-office consultation, begin by taking a full medical history. This will include information about any preexisting health conditions, your family history, and current lifestyle. They will also ask you (or a relative, if you bring one along) about any hearing-related difficulties you may have experienced.
Usually they will also perform a visual examination of your ear before starting the hearing test itself. The exam may include a check of the outer ear as well as a video otoscopy, which uses a camera to see your ear canal up close.
Next the audiologist or ENT performs a full hearing assessment that will include speech testing, tone testing, and a bone conduction test. Online hearing tests can’t include the bone conduction portion of this testing. If testing reveals something suspicious or unexplained, the hearing professional can also refer you to a neurologist or for a more thorough imaging study. After they find the cause for your hearing loss, they can explain whether it is likely to progress, or how to prevent it from doing so, or even if it is partly reversible (such as with obstructive ear wax). They will also be able to recommend a specific hearing aid type or model, or work with you to find a suitable alternative.
If you have insurance and you want it to cover the assessment or hearing test, then the first thing you should do is contact your insurance company. They may be able to direct you to an in-network office close to where you live.
If this is not a concern for you, check out the American Academy of Audiology’s database. This page will let you search by city, state, zip code, or specialty area from among 14,000 board-certified audiology professionals around the country.
At Innerbody Research, we customize our evaluation criteria depending on the type and nature of the health service or product. For medical testing, devices and products, we have five areas that we use for our evaluations, including:
Quality: How well does the company deliver its core service(s) to the customer? Is the quality of the test, device or service high enough that we would recommend it to loved ones without hesitation? Does the company have a high quality medical review board with oversight? Are their treatment options or products FDA-approved, if applicable?
Value: Are you getting your money’s worth? Are there any hidden costs or charges? Does the provider offer discounts or free services to our readers?
Customer Support: How well does the company provide information about its product or service? How clearly are options presented?
Privacy: Are all products sent in discreet packaging? Will your data be stored securely? Could your data ever be shared without your permission?
Speed: How fast will you receive your product from the moment you click “buy?” Are the waiting times stated by the company accurate and consistent?