September 22, 2013

Accurate Hearing Testing Using an iPhone

There is an iPhone app called "EarTrumpet" that apparently can provide accurate hearing testing... almost as good as a professionally administered test (conventional audiometry) and certainly as good (if not better) than medical-quality automated testing machines (ie Otogram).

Created with the assistance of the ENT department at the University of California, Irvine...

According to one study, this iPhone application provided results as good as one administered by an audiologist:

• 96% of the threshold values when obtained in a sound booth
• 94% of the threshold values when testing was done in just a "quiet" room

When accuracy was defined as "within 10 dB of the corresponding threshold value obtained using conventional audiometry."

Given how accurately the iPhone application performs, it may potentially be a very helpful screening tool to evaluate patients with ear/hearing complaints. If the testing comes back normal hearing (between 0-20db at ALL frequencies), than the patient probably hears just fine.

However, if there's any hearing loss detected, it is advised to seek professional opinion because there  are weaknesses to this program and further testing WILL be necessary.

• It ONLY performs air conduction testing. Given the lack of bone conduction testing, pure nerve testing is not possible, especially when hearing loss is detected. For example, the iPhone application will not be able to test hearing loss due to earwax/fluid versus actual nerve hearing loss.
• Speech audiometry is not present. Only pure tone audiometry. Speech audiometry provides information regarding how well spoken words are understood... one can potentially "hear" a beep at a specific frequency just fine, but still mishear a spoken word which is composed of many different sound frequencies.
• As it pertains to this research study, while there was excellent agreement in masked threshold values between the iPhone app and conventional audiometry, the sample size was limited. Masking is especially important when significant asymmetric hearing loss is present.

There may also be potential bias with the research. The developer of the EarTrumpet iPhone app, Allen Foulad, is also the lead researcher of the paper. It would be worthwhile to have other independent labs reproduce and verify the findings.

However, I applaud Dr. Foulad for his work in this area as well as entrepreneurial spirit!

You can download his app here.

As a bonus, this iPhone application can also act as a personal sound amplifier. It can enhance environmental sounds via earphones attached to the iPhone.

Automated Audiometry Using Apple iOS-Based Application Technology. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013 Aug 20. [Epub ahead of print]
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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