What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is a condition that reduces the ability to hear sounds that are heard by people with normal hearing abilities. Other terms used to refer to hearing loss are hard of hearing or hearing impairment. People casually refer to the condition as deafness
Hearing impairment leads to emotional turmoil such as anxiety and insecurity, depression and consequently less social activity.
Hearing loss is determined using the amount of the shift in the threshold of hearing. The minimum intensity (loudness) of sound heard by a person in a particular frequency is the threshold of the person for that frequency.
The causes of hearing loss can be exposure to loud noise, ear infections, congenital disorders, drugs that can cause hearing loss and other diseases affecting the ear, nose and throat. Some of the aspects of hearing loss that may influence the quality of life of the hearing impaired person include:
- Problem with speech comprehension in noisy surroundings.
- The degree of hearing loss
- Whether one ear or both the ears are affected
- The part of the ear affected - the outer or middle ear (conductive hearing loss) or inner ear or the auditory nerve (sensorineural hearing loss).
- Age of the person
Online hearing tests allow you to test your hearing from a computerized program. An online hearing test can detect the possibility of hearing loss from your home, without the need of consulting an audiologist. Online hearing tests cannot be carried out under the same circumstances as the professional hearing tests. However, online hearing tests can be used for monitoring hearing loss or as a screening device to detect if there is any deterioration in hearing ability.
The hearing test taken at a clinical set up is done in a sound proof testing room. The audiometer is calibrated according to the sound levels of the room and thus gives precise measurements of hearing threshold across the different frequencies tested.
Online hearing tests can be taken with a desktop computer, laptop or mobile phones. This means that the sounds heard by the person undergoing the test are affected by various factors such as sound levels of the room and the speakers of the computer or phone.
Many hearing aid manufacturers provide access to a free hearing test on their official website.
The sound levels of the room or home are not similar to that of an ideal testing condition in a clinical set up. Calibration of the speakers of your device can reduce the errors of results of the online hearing tests. The below-mentioned method of calibration is used across many websites and hearing aid manufacturers.
Steps for calibration for online hearing test:
- Choose the quietest room of your house.
- Listen to the calibration file in the test. It produces the sound of hands rubbing.
- Now bring your hands together in front of your nose and rub them together.
- Match the levels of sound heard from rubbing your hands and adjust the volume of your speakers.
- Put on the speakers and you are now ready for the test.
- Do not touch the volume knob after this throughout the test.
There are several types of online tests of hearing ability. Some of them are:
- Calibrated Hearing Tests give threshold levels to the accuracy of 10 decibel difference compared to the clinical hearing test. This is also due to the improved quality of speakers and headphones.
- Calibrated Hearing Tests With a Full Audiogram: A full audiogram is generated using the testing software by some websites. However, it requires the user to follow a great deal of text and instructions and does not give details about the interpretation of results.
- Online Hearing Tests Using Natural Sounds: Calibration for this test is also done by rubbing of hands. But once calibrated, the test involves hearing natural sounds like frog calls, dog barking and birds chirping. The results depict the userís hearing levels in comparison with an average Asian person.
- High-frequency Hearing Tests: Some websites aim at testing higher frequencies using a single sine wave tone. Usual hearing tests end at 8 KiloHertz, while high frequency tests start from here, reaching up to 22 KiloHertz.
- Speech-in-Noise Test: Numerals or words are dictated by various noise levels in varying volumes and frequencies. The score indicates the setting in of hearing loss as the first thing to experience with the onset of hearing loss is difficulty in understanding speech in a noisy background.
Steps recommended in some of the online hearing tests include the following:
- Play the individual hearing test files in the order mentioned on the website.
- The sounds can be a pure tone (steady sound without overtones), warble tone or speech sounds.
- Follow the arrows marked to play the audio (pure tones) and find your lowest hearing volume at each frequency.
- Mark the lowest sounds heard in left and right ear separately.
Results and Interpretation
An audiogram is a graph plotted with frequencies on the X-axis and intensity of sounds on the Y-axis. Thresholds of hearing of each ear are plotted on this graph. The portion of audiogram above the markings of threshold is inaudible to the hearer. The threshold levels of a person with normal hearing would be at or below 25-30 decibels at all frequencies. Reading the audiogram and interpreting the results is done by an audiologist.
The results of the online hearing tests are not conclusive of the hearing ability of the user. Further, testing of bone conduction is essential for the diagnosis of conductive hearing loss. Free online hearing test is not sufficient to determine the cause of the hearing loss.
Therefore, the user may use online hearing tests for screening for hearing loss or to monitor the progress in hearing ability in the course of his or her treatment. If worried about hearing,one should consult an ENT specialist or an audiologist.
- Do not attempt to clean your ears with earbuds or sharp objects.
- Avoid exposure to loud noises such as traffic and loud music.
- Avoid listening to music through headphones, especially at high intensity levels.
- Take a healthy diet containing folic acid, magnesium and zinc.
- Avoid injury on the sides of the head.
- Online hearing tests only give us the information about the extent of hearing loss. As it does not right away diagnose the cause of hearing loss consult an audiologist for the same.