When you hear the term “hearing test,” what do you think it means? Perhaps you don’t even know. The answer is that this is often a blanket term used to refer to a few very different hearing care processes: hearing screenings and hearing evaluations. It’s important to understand the difference between these two so you can decide what your next step might be and know what to expect from each one.

Hearing screenings

Screenings are usually the first step in detecting hearing loss – the earlier, the better. That’s why screenings are conducted on infants and children on a routine basis as they progress through growth milestones. Screenings are usually administered at a hospital, hearing health clinic or through the school system. They’re also important for adults who have not had their hearing screened since childhood, especially adults who suspect they may be experiencing hearing loss.

Screenings are fast, extremely non-invasive, and cost-effective (many places offer them for free), so there’s no need to worry about the expense or be apprehensive about them. Because they are relatively simple, they are performed by a number of medical professionals. If you haven’t had your hearing screened in more than a year, you should consider getting one. They will often be included in a routine checkup with a primary care physician, but you can also find free hearing screenings at community health fairs, state-run programs and even online.

Hearing screenings are designed to separate the public into two groups. Those who pass require no further testing, while those who fail should schedule a complete hearing evaluation with a hearing care provider.

Hearing evaluations

A hearing evaluation sounds more in-depth because it is. Unlike hearing screenings, evaluations require the skills of a professional, which is why you should schedule one with a reputable provider who specializes in treating hearing loss. Although they’re not free, they’re often covered by insurance. Finally, they’ll take up a little more time than a hearing screening. The hearing specialist will need to administer a range of hearing tests to determine the nature of your hearing loss, what degree of loss you’ve experienced and what treatment options would be best for you. Still, this is a relatively easy appointment and entirely pain-free.

If you’ve failed a hearing screening, take the next step and contact a hearing healthcare practitioner for a full hearing evaluation. The sooner your hearing loss is diagnosed and treated, the sooner you’ll be hearing – and living – better.