June 23, 2018
Can You Test Your Hearing Over the Phone?
Ask the Experts

Can You Test Your Hearing Over the Phone?

by Jeanine Barone  

Q: Is the on-the-phone National Hearing Test a good way to get your hearing checked?

A: Yes. The National Hearing Test (NHT) is considered a reliable screening test for hearing loss. Though the test only recently made its debut in the U.S., versions have been used for years in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Australia. The American version is based on the Dutch test and was developed by researchers associated with Indiana University and Indiana-based Communication Disorders Technology (a software development company), with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Standard hearing tests, administered by audiologists, involve wearing headphones that play a variety of sounds, including hums, buzzing, and beeps. In contrast, the NHT is done over the telephone and involves listening to a series of numbers spoken against a staticky background, simulating the attempt to discern speech in a noisy room. It can detect the most common type of hearing loss, presbycusis, which affects the hearing part of the inner ear called the cochlea and is common among older people. The NHT cannot detect hearing loss as a result of a problem in the middle ear or ear canal.

The NHT costs $8 (free for AARP members), takes 10 minutes, and should be done on a landline in a quiet room. After you’ve paid online, you get a personalized code to access the test. Once you’ve completed the test, a recorded voice immediately gives you the results for each ear as within normal limits, slightly below normal limits, or substantially below normal limits. If your hearing falls into the two latter categories, you’re advised to consult a hearing professional.

The test was validated by a study done at Veterans Affairs centers and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology in 2014. It found that the results correlated well with gold-standard hearing tests.

About 80 percent of people who take the test are found to have below-normal hearing and are advised to seek professional assessment. That’s not surprising, since those who take the test usually suspect they have hearing problems. If it takes a $8 test to get people to seek help, that’s a small expense that’s worth it.

Also see Hearing Loss: Don't Suffer in Silence.

Originally published April 2017.