A December 2015 Morning Edition health program that aired on National Public Radio (NPR) featured a hearing test that consumers can take over the phone to determine if they have a hearing loss. The telephone hearing test, which was described in a November 25, 2014 Hearing Review article, must be taken using a landline phone, and is reported to be inexpensive, scientifically validated, and confidential.
As described by NPR, unlike a traditional hearing test that uses pure tones delivered in a series of beeps and hums at various volumes and frequencies to assess hearing, the telephone-based hearing test uses speech in the presence of background noise. The reason for using speech sounds for the telephone test is because there is a high degree of variability in phone instruments, which would render a pure tone test conducted via phone ineffective.
According to National Hearing Test, the nonprofit organization that offers the phone test, there is a high correlation between how you hear speech in noise and your level of hearing loss as measured with pure tones in an office setting.
“It’s a test intended to be very convenient,” said Charles Watson, PhD, in the NPR story. Watson explained that the aim in providing a low-hassle, low-cost test is to encourage more people to get screened for hearing loss, and then to pursue a full audiological exam–something that is often delayed or avoided.
To take the test, you log onto the National Hearing Test website and pay a $5 fee. Then you’re given a phone number to call and a 10-digit access code. When you call, you’ll hear numbers embedded in a lot of static. You press the telephone keypad to indicate which numbers you heard. At the end of the phone test, you’re told if your hearing is in the normal range or if you have a moderate or severe hearing loss. You will get a separate score for each ear.
NPR reports that the telephone hearing test has been used in the Netherlands and a few other countries for several years. It got started in the US in 2013, with a grant from the National Institutes of Health, which is also supporting Watson’s follow-up research. Preliminary results from his study show that about 80% of the people who’ve taken the test discover significant hearing loss in one or both ears. His study also shows that in the year following the test, only about 20% of those people who took the test take the next step and see a hearing specialist. Yet, even though most test-takers don’t follow up with a specialist, they’re still twice as likely to seek help as people who don’t get tested at all.
Frank Lin, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, also provided comments for the NPR story. For more details, read the original story on the NPR website.
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