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Viral ‘ear age’ test flags hearing loss that comes with aging

By Jake Beardslee · November 25, 2023

In brief…

  • Online "ear age test" plays tones of increasing frequency to estimate hearing range
  • Audiologists view test more as an entertainment than diagnostic tool
  • Natural hearing spans 2k-20k Hz but declines with age, faster for some factors
  • 40 million Americans have some hearing loss, so test may flag early changes
  • Still no substitute for full clinical hearing evaluation
An online hearing test that reveals your "ear age" by playing tones of increasing frequency delivers entertainment more than accurate diagnosis of hearing decline that typically develops gradually with age.  Marcus Aurelius/Pexels

An online hearing test that reveals your “ear age” has become popular thanks to UK education group eChalk. The minute-long test plays sounds of increasing frequency through headphones, asking users to “stop” when they can no longer detect the tone. According to eChalk, this pinpoints the upper limit of a person’s hearing range, allowing the test to estimate an “ear age.”

Dr. Amy Sarow, an audiologist with hearing testing service Soundly, told The Daily Mail that the eChalk test “lacks the sensitivity and specificity to provide meaningful diagnostic insight.” At best, she said it “could screen for high-frequency hearing loss.”

The eChalk test measures hearing in hertz (Hz), positing that humans start out detecting up to 20,000 Hz as children. By age 20, the test suggests people can only hear up to 18,000 Hz. And by 50, it drops to 12,000 Hz.

Actual clinical data shows natural human hearing spans 2,000 to 20,000 Hz. This declines with age, with most adults unable to hear above 16,000 Hz by age 30. By their 70s, people often lose the ability to hear above 14,000 Hz.

While entertaining, Blake Cadwell of Soundly believes the eChalk test is “more of a party trick.” Still, with 40 million Americans suffering some hearing impairment, even an imprecise screening could alert people to early decline.

Gradual hearing loss is common with age, a condition termed presbycusis. Causes include reduced blood flow and nerve changes in the ear. Initial symptoms often manifest as difficulty hearing soft voices or making out speech amid background noise. Risk factors like diabetes or noise exposure can accelerate loss.

So while the online “ear age test” is no substitute for an expert diagnosis, it offers a quick glimpse into how well you can hear high frequencies. Just don’t rely on it as a definitive assessment of your hearing health.