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Updated: 20 Sep 2021

Getting a hearing test

Which? and RNID explain what happens during and after a hearing test.
Which?Editorial team
Hearing test 434582

To have an NHS hearing test, you'll need to be referred by your GP. Once referred, your assessment will be carried out by a qualified audiologist.

If you're buying hearing aids privately, you'll be assessed by a hearing aid audiologist (also called a dispenser). You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor for further investigation of your hearing loss or ear problems. 

If you want to try a free hearing check the RNID has one. It's not the same as a full hearing check by an audiologist, but it's a good first step to see if you need one.

What happens in a hearing test?

You'll have hearing tests to assess both ears. These measure the type and severity of your hearing loss, and generally take place in a soundproofed booth.

All audiologists follow the British Standard of Audiology (BSA) guidelines for the tests they perform. The tests generally differ between children and adults, but they’re all painless, and might include:

  • Air conduction testing - sounds of different volumes and frequencies (low, middle and high) are played through headphones, and you press a handheld button when you hear them. The audiologist will gradually make them softer, testing the quietest sounds you can hear until they reach your ‘threshold’ of hearing at each frequency.
  • Bone conduction tests - a vibrating sensor is placed behind the ear to test how well sound travels through the bones in the ear (again, you'll press a button when you hear a sound).  

The test results, which are recorded on a graph called an audiogram, will show the audiologist whether your hearing loss is likely to be What is hearing loss?. They'll explain this to you and you can ask for a copy of your audiogram if you wish.

Depending on what the hearing test shows, the audiologist may ask you to take some different tests. The procedure and results should all be explained to you, so do ask questions if you’re not clear about any of the details.

You'll be asked a number of standard questions about your ears, hearing problems and any other symptoms you've been experiencing. You’ll be asked about your family history of hearing problems, general health and your lifestyle - for example, your leisure activities. These answers, along with the results of the hearing tests, are vital to help the audiologist establish what solution is most suitable for you. 

What next?

Sometimes, the audiologist will advise you to get hearing aids but also suggest additional support from another specialist, such as an ENT doctor. This may be the case if you suffer from dizziness issues or there is a significant difference between your ears.

If hearing aids are an option for you and you’d like to proceed, the audiologist will advise you on the best type of hearing aid to suit your hearing loss and individual needs. They will consider physical issues, such as the flexibility in your fingers, your eyesight and what you do from day to day, as well as assessing the severity of your hearing loss.

Your audiologist will usually make an impression of your ear for your earmould, and you’ll need to return a few weeks later to have your hearing aid fitted.

Some types of hearing aid, called an ‘open-ear fitting’, don’t require an earmould. They can even sometimes be fitted on the same day as your test, if there's enough time.

  • Find out how much you'll pay if you go privately - including a detailed comparison of what each retailer offers from free batteries and wax traps to money-back guarantee - with our guide to hearing aid prices

What should happen after my hearing test?

If you choose to get hearing aids, you’ll go to a second appointment to have them fitted and learn how to use them. The hearing aids will be adjusted based on your levels of hearing, so it’s likely that you’ll have both objective and subjective testing (tests as well as checks by the audiologist and your own opinion) to verify they are working effectively for you.

You’ll then have a third appointment to check how you’re doing and sort out any teething problems you might be having.

Remember, it can take some time to get used to your hearing aids - usually between two and four weeks. If you’re still having hearing aid problems after this time, book an appointment with your audiologist.