Quick hearing tests
Quick hearing checks are a good first step to finding out how healthy your hearing is without having to visit your GP or a private hearing specialist. They're free, painless and take just five to 15 minutes. You can do some of them for yourself in your own home.
Senior audiology specialist Louise Hart from Action on Hearing Loss says: "It can be really helpful to do a quick hearing check, often from the comfort of your own home. These checks have been validated and if they suggest hearing loss, they can spur you to take further action."
However, she stresses they're not a medical diagnosis. "All these checks are just screening tests and they're no substitute for a full hearing test. If the quick hearing check doesn't suggest hearing loss but you're having hearing difficulties, do see your GP."
So what are your quick hearing check options?
Over-the-phone hearing checks
An over-the-phone hearing check is available from Action on Hearing Loss on 0844 800 3838 (local rate call). This service is completely automated (you won't have to speak to anyone) and anonymous.
This test is a 'speech-in-noise' check, which assesses your ability to hear someone speaking when there's background noise, similar to being in a crowded room. A voice will read out three random numbers and you use the numbers on your telephone keypad to indicate the numbers you heard.
Online hearing checks
Online hearing checks are similar to Action on Hearing Loss's telephone hearing check, except you hear the sounds through your computer instead of your telephone.
You can do a free online hearing check at Action on Hearing Loss, or the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA).
Don't be tempted to buy a hearing aid on the basis of an online test alone, as some websites might encourage you to do. "At the moment, technology isn't sufficient to test hearing online and then recommend a hearing aid from this information. It's always best to have a face-to-face consultation with a hearing specialist to discuss the type of hearing aid that's right for you," says Hart.
There are two types of face-to-face tests. Either a short hearing test, or a full hearing test.
Short hearing tests
Some GPs and private hearing aid dispensers offer to do a short hearing test. These tests are usually free, take about 15 minutes, and can indicate if you have a hearing problem.
As with online and over-the-phone hearing checks, short hearing tests are screening tests designed to alert you to the fact you may have hearing loss. They can't tell for definite that you have a hearing problem.
If a short hearing test suggests you have a hearing problem, the next step is to have a full hearing assessment. A full hearing test will confirm whether you have a hearing problem and establish the type of hearing problem that you have.
Full hearing tests
The full hearing test appointment lasts up to an hour, and can be carried out by your GP surgery, hospital clinic, or by a private hearing aid dispenser.
At the GP
If you suspect you may have hearing loss and want further testing on the NHS, make an appointment to see your GP.
Most GPs don't have the equipment to do a full hearing test in the surgery, but your GP can examine your ears to check for obvious problems, like a build-up of earwax, and treat the cause if necessary.
Your GP can also give you a referral to an NHS hospital specialist to have your ears and hearing thoroughly checked and an NHS hearing aid fitted.
At the NHS hospital clinic
In the clinic, you'll be seen by an audiologist (and possibly by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor first, if your GP has requested it). Before the audiologist tests your hearing, you will be asked some questions about your hearing and they will look in your ears. You'll then have a hearing test lasting about 20 minutes.
During the hearing test, you'll sit in a soundproof booth or room with headphones on while the audiologist presents a series of sounds. When you hear a sound, you signal to the audiologist, normally by pressing a button or raising your hand.
Read more about having a hospital-based hearing test.
You might choose to go directly to a private hearing aid dispenser instead of having your hearing tested on the NHS. Just as with the NHS route, a hearing aid dispenser will assess you with a full hearing test lasting up to an hour before deciding if you would benefit from wearing hearing aids. You don't need a referral from your GP.
You can search for a local hearing aid dispenser on the BSHAA's website, or simply type 'hearing aid dispenser' along with your town or postcode into a search engine, such as Google. Some local hearing aid dispensers offer free testing, so it's worth asking before you make an appointment.
The Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) keeps a list of qualified private hearing aid dispensers. You can use the HCPC's online register to check if the hearing aid dispenser you're about to use is registered.
Action on Hearing Loss has an online Locate and Rate tool that lets you search for audiology services in your area, both NHS and private, by name, address and postcode. Once you've found a service, you can see how other people have rated it.
If you are housebound, or have difficulty getting to the audiology department, discuss this with your GP. They can write to the NHS audiology department and request for an audiologist to come to your home if needed.
If you get your hearing aid privately you can find a hearing aid dispenser who will do a home visit through the BSHAA website. Some offer free home testing, so ask before you make an appointment.
Article provided by NHS Choices