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Are Online and App Hearing Tests Accurate? Part 1

By: Kelly Warf, Au.D.

While a hearing test completed in the convenience of your own home may be attractive as an alternative to making an appointment to see an audiologist, the tests and equipment currently available has never been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the federal agency that is responsible for ensuring medical equipment and devices are approved for their stated usage). The accuracy of online hearing testing for purposes of diagnosing a medical hearing loss is highly suspicious and unlikely to be accurate or reliably identify the extent of your hearing problem.

A face-to-face examination of you and your hearing is the best practice and the following sections are components of such an examination:

Medical History and Current Conditions
The audiologist will ask you many questions about your current and past medical and physical history, especially as it related to your hearing abilities. There are many physical conditions that can impact your hearing status or your hearing problems can make other medical conditions worse. Also, there are many medications that can affect your hearing and your audiologist will ask about these as well. Additionally, if you are experiencing ear noise (tinnitus), balance, problems such as dizziness or vertigo, are exposed to hazardous loud sounds recreationally or through your work, or have any other hearing- and balance-related issues, the audiologist will address these with you in the appointment. This cannot happen through your computer by an online hearing test that will focus on a small component of your overall hearing health.

Otoscopic Examination
As part of the overall hearing evaluation, it is mandatory that the audiologist assess your ears (with an otoscope-a lighted, magnifying device) to determine if obstructions like occluding ear wax are present in the ear canal. This important part of the examination is not possible in a self-administered examination in your own home. Further, the audiologist can help to identify other potential medical problems through this external ear examination such as drainage or bleeding in the canal or even identification of abnormal skin rashes or bumps in or around the ear that may require further medical examination. Sound Hearing Solution is housed in the Ear, Nose, and Throat Center so we can easily refer to an ENT specialist.

Equipment Used to Test Hearing
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has published guidelines that specify the acceptable level of ambient (local and ongoing) room noise allowed for an accurate hearing test. It is rarely possible to meet these standards without a uniquely constructed, sound-treated room. It is imperative to control for background noise when evaluating an individual’s hearing thresholds as background noises in your home including roadside traffic, computer monitors, and ventilation systems (just to name a few) may produce noise that will artificially increase your hearing levels when completing a hearing test online at your computer. Clearly, having ones hearing tested in a sound-treated room is not a realistic environment in which to identify the problems a person with hearing loss has in everyday listening situations, but in a sound-treated room, the baseline hearing (or best possible hearing) can be identified. This baseline hearing then helps the audiologist understand the extent of the loss.

Additionally, there are strict standards for headphone or earphone calibration in the audiologist’s practice that do not exist for home computer systems. Varying test results from the same individual on the same home computer using different kinds of headsets/earphones have been made. So there is simply no way to know the specifications or capabilities of the in-home earphones.

Now that you understand the importance of calibrated equipment and environmental considerations for accurate hearing measures, part 2 will describe the different types of hearing loss and testing considerations.

To schedule your hearing assessment, call our office at 847-685-1000.

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