Hearing Protection

hearWHO, the new World Health Organisation hearing test app

hearwho hearing test app

In March 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a free mobile app to help people check their hearing and prompt early intervention in the case of hearing loss.

Using a digits-in-noise test, the hearWHO app claims 85 per cent accuracy in identifying potential hearing damage in people aged 18 years and over.

Available on iOS and Android, hearWHO is particularly aimed at adults at risk of hearing loss or those already experiencing symptoms of hearing damage.

While currently only available in English, WHO has indicated that other language versions will be available in late 2019.

How does hearWHO work?

hearWHO uses digits-in-noise technology to measure the user’s ability to hear speech in amongst background noise.

Wearing headphones, users are asked to concentrate, listen and enter sets of three numbers into their smartphones when they hear them.

Twenty-three sets of numbers are spoken against varying levels of background sound in order to simulate listening conditions in everyday life.

The user receives a score out of 100 which represents their signal-to-noise ratio, with the likelihood and extent of hearing loss increasing as the score gets lower.

Scores greater than 75 indicate good hearing, while scores lower than 50 suggest that the user has some degree of hearing loss already and should seek a professional hearing assessment.

Individuals who receive a score between 50 and 75 are recommended to regularly check their hearing to monitor if their score reduces further.

To help with this, the hearWHO app allows users to save the outcomes of their hearing tests and set reminders to take the test regularly.

Who should use hearWHO?

While anyone over 18 can use and benefit from hearWHO, it is of particular use to those at risk of hearing loss or already experiencing some of the symptoms.

Early symptoms of hearing loss include a ringing in the ears known as tinnitus; frequently missing parts of conversations; and a tendency to increase the volume when listening to the radio, television or other audio devices.

Risk factors include exposure to high levels of noise, whether through work or individual behaviours such as listening to loud music; taking medicines that are harmful to hearing; and being over 60 years in age.

Moderate levels of ‘stealth’ noise can also result in gradual hearing loss if people are exposed long-term, making it especially important to undertake regular hearing assessments.

Early detection of hearing loss can limit the extent of damage through identifying and controlling risky behaviours and changing exposure patterns.

Interventions, such as captioning, sign language, hearing aids and cochlear implants, may also be recommended by hearing care professionals.

How to prevent hearing loss:

Once it is lost, hearing does not come back, providing significant motivation for people to care for their hearing and conduct regular hearing tests with ease.

According to WHO, more than five per cent of the world have disabling hearing loss, with this figure expected to increase to ten per cent by 2050.

Additionally, unaddressed hearing loss globally costs an estimated US $750 billion per year, with many people unaware that they are experiencing it and missing out on educational, professional and personal opportunities.

To protect your hearing, hearWHO makes the following recommendations:

  • Never insert any object into your ear canal (not even a q-tip or cotton swab)
  • Keep volumes below 60 per cent and limit the time spent listening
  • Use earplugs in noisy places or when doing noisy activities
  • Visit a doctor if you experience any pain or discharge from the ear
  • Seek help if you have tinnitus or feel you may not be hearing well

Employers also have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace, including controlling hazards to hearing, whether noise or chemical.

The hearWHO app represents a positive addition to hearing loss prevention and monitoring programs, particularly in locations where access to professional hearing care is limited.