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How to take a hearing test – do you need one and how to book

Audiologist Emily Woodmansey

According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) 12 million adults in the UK experience hearing loss greater than 25dBHL. That means distinguishing speech sounds has become impaired, so conversations at a normal level are difficult and require quite a lot of effort.

Thankfully, most hearing loss can be treated, often with hearing aids, for example, but first it needs to be diagnosed by an audiologist. And that means getting a hearing test.

In this article, we’ve unpacked what’s involved in having your hearing tested, the different types of tests you could have, where to go to get a hearing test, and what’s available on the NHS versus if you pay to go private.

With advice on the process as a whole, we aim to make the experience of having a hearing test as stress-free and straightforward as possible.

Do I need a hearing test?

The clearest sign that you’d benefit from having a hearing test is changes to your hearing. That may seem obvious, but you might not realise for a long while that your hearing has changed.

Usually, hearing loss occurs gradually over time, especially as you get older. Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is the most common type of hearing loss. In fact, around 40 per cent of people over 50 have some degree of hearing loss. That figure rises to 70 per cent for those over 70.

woman having her ears tested
Modern hearing tests quickly ascertain if someone requires a hearing aid (The Hearing Suite)

Whatever your age, if your hearing loss is gradual, it’s often a friend or family member who notices before you do, especially if you live together. You might think nothing of turning the volume up on the TV but, when you need it so loud that it becomes uncomfortable for other people, it’s a sure sign there’s a problem with your hearing.

Struggling with conversations is often the first indication that you need a hearing test. That’s because high-frequency sounds are the most difficult to process if your hearing is impaired, so you might find it hard to distinguish between ‘s’, ‘f’ and ‘th’ sounds.

Context helps your brain to fill in the gaps to start with, but as hearing loss progresses and the range of sounds you can’t hear properly grows, it gets more difficult to understand speech.

Request a free audiologist consultation

Signs of hearing loss

If you can relate to the following statements, it’s probably a good idea to get your hearing tested:

  • People sound like they’re mumbling
  • You often have to ask people to repeat themselves
  • You misunderstand when people talk to me
  • Conversations are tough to follow in noisy environments
  • It’s hard to keep up with what’s being said in group conversations
  • When you’re on the phone I usually struggle to hear the other person
  • Having to concentrate on listening is tiring and stressful
  • People tell you you’re shouting when I’m talking to them 

Another sign that you should get your hearing checked is if you start getting tinnitus. Sometimes referred to as ringing in the ears, tinnitus is when you hear sounds that don’t come from an external source. 

You might experience tinnitus as ringing, whooshing, buzzing, humming or other sounds, and it can affect one or both ears. Importantly, tinnitus can be a symptom of hearing loss, so it should prompt you to go for a hearing test.

If you experience sudden hearing loss in one or both ears, you should call NHS 111 or go to A&E as soon as possible. The chances are it might not be anything to worry about, but losing your hearing suddenly could signal a potentially serious medical condition that needs to be assessed as an emergency. 

What is a hearing test?

There are a range of different hearing tests that can detect whether you have any hearing loss, how severe it is, what’s causing it, and what treatments might be possible. The best treatment for hearing loss is usually a hearing aid.

Everyone can get a hearing assessment through the NHS by visiting their GP, who can refer you to a hearing specialist, called an audiologist, for more detailed hearing tests if necessary.

Some branches of large pharmacies and opticians, such as Boots and Specsavers, also provide hearing tests, often for free. You’ll also find hearing aid manufacturers, for instance Amplifon, operating in high street shops where you can get your hearing tested. 

Alternatively, you can pay to see an audiologist privately and have a thorough series of hearing tests.

Emily Woodmansey

What happens during a hearing test (and why the test is important)? – Emily Woodmansey, Audiologist

When people go for a hearing test it’s common practice for a case history to be taken, looking at the kind of difficulties you may be having, and an overview of your hearing health. Your audiologist will look inside your ears to check for any wax or foreign bodies, and arrange for them to be cleaned before any further testing.

Audiometry is what people commonly refer to as hearing testing and is a vital part of taking care of our hearing. Equipment should be calibrated annually, and ideally, testing would occur in a soundproof booth or room. The testing is done with headphones, which either go over your ears or push inside, and a tight band that goes behind one ear.

Audiologists have to create an audiogram to see your hearing thresholds (the quietest sounds that you can hear) across the speech frequency range (250Hz-8kHz). That’s what they’re doing when they ask you to press the button every time you hear a sound, even if it’s very faint. This chart or graph gives the audiologist information about the level of your hearing, the health of your ears and possible causes of your hearing loss. 

You may also have tympanometry (middle ear measurements) and a range of speech testing performed. This will give your audiologist extra information and help them advise you. Hearing testing allows your audiologist to establish whether your hearing is healthy, or whether it needs further investigation by an ear nose and throat (ENT) consultant. ENT consultants can be seen through the NHS or privately.

Types of hearing test

You might have different hearing tests depending on where you have them done. If your first port of call is your GP, it’s likely they’ll perform one or two very simple checks, rather than a full hearing test.

Basic hearing assessment

This basic hearing assessment can be carried out by your GP, and may also form part of an audiologist’s initial assessment should you bypass the NHS and choose to go private.

man having basic hearing assessment
A basic hearing assessment could include a visual assessment of the ears (The Hearing Suite)

The aim is to find out if there’s something simple causing your hearing loss that can be easily resolved. For example, the examiner will look into your ear with a device called an otoscope, which can show if there’s a build-up of wax or something else blocking your ear canal, or any sign of an ear infection.

Other basic checks include a whispered voice test, where the examiner stands at arm’s length behind you and whispers letters and numbers – usually a sequence of three at a time – to see whether you can hear them.

You might also have a tuning fork test, where a tuning fork is placed against the top of your head or behind your ear, then struck to check whether you can hear the noise it produces. It can be useful in detecting some types of hearing loss and identifying if you’re hearing impaired in one or both ears.

Based on what the hearing assessment shows, your GP might suggest a more detailed look at what’s happening and refer you to an audiologist for a full hearing test, which you can get for free with the NHS. 

Pure tone audiometry

Pure tone audiometry, often referred to simply as audiometry, is what probably comes to mind when you think of a hearing test. It measures your hearing range and sensitivity; in other words, if and how you hear sounds at different pitches, tones and frequencies.

It involves listening out for beep sounds through headphones and indicating each time you hear a sound.

Audiometry hearing test woman with headphones
There are a few hearing test which involve the use of headphone, usually with the patient in a sound proof room (The Hearing Suite)

This hearing test is performed by an audiologist who’s trained to carry out audiometry and interpret the results. They’ll also be able to advise you which treatments might help you, and give you advice for the best hearing aids for your needs, if necessary.

Speech audiometry

Very similar to pure tone audiometry, this hearing test plays spoken words rather than beep noises through the headphones at different volumes.

Also called speech recognition threshold testing, the advantage of this assessment is that it specifically examines how well you can hear other people speaking and whether there are certain elements of speech that you find more difficult than others.

Using natural speech sounds, it gives more of an overview of your hearing in normal, everyday life. Sometimes speech audiometry is performed against background noise, which can help the audiologist to suggest the best hearing aids for you, should you need them.

Audiometry hearing test in detail

  1. Typically, you go into a soundproof room or booth, so there’s no interference from noise and external sounds that could influence the results. The audiologist stays outside the room or booth to administer the test.
  2. You put on headphones, which are connected to an audiometer machine operated by the audiologist.
  3. The audiometer plays beep sounds through the headphones, at different volumes and pitches through each ear in turn. In speech audiometry, the audiologist utters different words and speech sounds, which are played through the headphones.
  4. When you hear a sound, you press a button or raise your hand and the audiologist records your responses.
  5. The aim is to identify how loud sounds and speech of different pitches need to be for you to hear them, known as hearing loss range.


Hearing loss is sometimes caused by a malfunction in your middle ear, and a tympanometry hearing test can be useful in detecting such problems.

In tympanometry, the audiologist introduces a probe into your ear canal and air is gently pushed through to see how your eardrum moves in response. The vibrations are recorded on a graph.

A probe is often used to measure how the ear drum reacts to a variety of sounds (The Hearing Suite)

If your eardrum is damaged, or you have fluid in your middle ear, for example, your ear drum won’t vibrate as it should and no movement will be recorded on the graph.

Acoustic reflex test

Used to assess how severe your hearing loss is, an acoustic reflex test measures your ears’ response to loud noise. It examines the automatic reflexes of a tiny muscle in your middle ear in reaction to sounds of varying loudness.

The audiologist plays sound at increasing volume through a probe in your ear. What they’re looking out for is the minimum sound intensity required to activate your acoustic reflex. 

Otoacoustic emissions test

More commonly associated with hearing screening in newborn babies, an otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test can also be used for adults to diagnose hearing problems that originate from the cochlea in your inner ear.

Like with other hearing tests, sounds are played through a small probe in your ear. The audiologist checks for acoustic feedback – called otoacoustic emissions – that your inner ear sends back to your middle ear in response to the sound.

The results can help identify the severity of hearing loss and guide the audiologist as to whether a hearing aid or other treatment might benefit you.

How to take a hearing test

There are two routes to taking a hearing test: NHS and private. You’ll probably have the same hearing tests either way, but it will almost certainly take longer to get an NHS referral than it will if you choose to go private.

While you won’t necessarily have to pay for private hearing tests – some retailers offer free hearing tests – you will have to pay for any treatment, including hearing aids. By using the NHS, treatments and hearing aids, as well as hearing tests, are free. Any doctors who practise privately to assess, fit and provide aftercare for hearing aids must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.

NHS hearing tests

  • Visit your GP and they will go through your symptoms and medical history, and conduct a basic hearing assessment
  • Depending on the outcome, your GP will refer you to an NHS audiology service to have a full spectrum of hearing tests
  • NHS audiology services may be in a hospital or a community setting. You will get an appointment for where your local service is located
  • At your appointment, you’ll see an audiologist, who will perform a series of hearing tests including those detailed above
  • The audiologist will interpret the results of those tests and advise you what next steps to take
  • If you need a hearing aid, you’ll usually have to come back to be measured up for your hearing aid. You may also need future appointments to make adjustments and check your hearing aid is working as it should

Private hearing tests

  • Choose where you want to have a hearing test done. There are several options: private audiology clinics or ‘high street’ retailers
  • Audiologists are not regulated by law, but they can join an accredited register voluntarily; choose an audiologist who is a registered member of the Academy for Healthcare Science or the Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists and accredited by the Improving Quality in Physiological Services (IQIPS) scheme
  • You may be able to walk into a high street provider and have a hearing test there and then. If not, they can make an appointment for you. Otherwise, you can call your local branch or book online
  • When you attend your appointment, the audiologist will likely take your relevant medical history and ask about the difficulties you are having with your hearing
  • The audiologist will carry out hearing tests as outlined above, and suggest treatment options or discuss hearing aids if necessary

Free hearing tests

The following high street retailers offer hearing tests for free:

  • Amplifon 
  • Boots Hearingcare (free for anyone aged 18 and over) 
  • Specsavers (free for anyone aged 19 and over)

You can book a free hearing test with your preferred retailer online, or by calling or visiting your local branch.

Online hearing tests

It’s really easy to take an online hearing test and there is no shortage of hearing test providers and hearing aid manufacturers that have online hearing test platforms.

They take five minutes or less and can give you an idea if you should seek further advice about your hearing. Online hearing tests are no substitute for having a hearing test with an audiologist or getting advice from your GP.

To undergo an online hearing test, you should find a quiet spot with no background noise and you will need headphones or earphones.

Below is a list of online hearing tests that you can access. You could also search online for others – there are many to choose from:

  • RNID
  • Specsavers
  • Amplifon
  • Boots Hearingcare
  • Scrivens
  • Resound
  • Oticon
  • Phonak
  • Signia
  • Starkey
  • Bernafon

Book your hearing test today

Whether you are experiencing some changes to your hearing or you’d like reassurance that your ears and hearing are healthy and functioning well, getting a hearing test is straightforward and, very often, free.

With so many routes to healthy hearing – high street retailers, private audiology clinics and NHS providers – there is no reason to delay getting your hearing tested.

And if you do need hearing aids, read our experts’ recommendations for the best hearing aids on the market.

Request a free audiologist consultation

Allie Anderson

Health Writer

Allie Anderson is a highly experienced health writer, and has written about a wide variety of health topics for nearly 15 years.

She has worked for the British Lung Foundation and as Editor at Today’s Pharmacist. As a freelancer writer, Allie has written for Grazia, Glamour, and Woman & Home, as well as periodicals such as British Journal of Community Nursing, Journal of Aesthetic Nursing, and Nursing Standard.

Allie is an expert in all aspects of health and healthcare and specialises in areas such as hearing aids, mental health, and social care.

Emily Woodmansey

Emily Woodmansey


Emily is a highly experienced audiologist and a founder and director of The Hearing Suite, a private hearing clinic in Yorkshire.

She has worked as an audiologist since 2011, spending three years in the NHS before moving to the private sector with Amplifon – as Audiologist and Registered Hearing Aid Dispenser (RHAD) – and at Phonak as Clinical Lead.

In September 2018, Emily founded her own private audiology practice in Harrowgate, where she employs a number of licensed audiologists and has recently opened a second clinic in Ilkley.

She also holds licenses and certifications as a Relaxation Teacher and a Living Life to the Full Practitioner.