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5 Mar 2019

WHO launches free app to check hearing loss

The hearWHO mobile app allows you to check your hearing and includes advice about hearing loss

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a free smartphone app that allows you to check your hearing health and track it over time.

The new hearWHO app is designed to draw attention to the importance of early detection of hearing loss. According to WHO, many people live with unidentified hearing loss, which the app tries to address byproviding a quick and easy way to test and track your hearing using your phone.

WHO says everyone should check their hearing from time to time, but especially those who are at a higher risk of hearing loss, such as adults above 60 years, people who work in noisy places, listen to music at high volumes for long periods of time or who are experiencing ear problems.

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How does the hearWHO app work?

WHO says the hearing test on the app is based on a validated 'digits-in-noise' technology: users need to listen out for and identify numbers spoken against varying levels of background sound, simulating listening conditions in everyday life.

Using the app

We tried the app out to see how it works, and found it fairly straightforward to use. The test gives you 23 sets of three digits to listen to, which are accompanied by varying levels of background static noise. After each set of three digits, you enter the numbers you think you heard, and move on to the next set.

When you are finished, the app gives you a hearing score out of 75 and advice on what your score means, and what you should do next. Your score is stored in the app so you can track your test scores and keep an eye out for any changes to your hearing over time.

You can also set reminders to take the test at regular intervals.

Issues with the app crashing on iPhones

The app worked fine on the Android phones we tried, but unfortunately it didn't work so well on iPhones, which use Apple's iOS operating system.

We tried it on several different models of iPhone, and it seemed to have a bug, crashing repeatedly before the test began, so it was impossible to do the test. We've contacted WHO about this issue.

Getting a hearing test

If the hearWHO app gives you a low score on the hearing test, it advises you to get your ears checked professionally. To do this, you need to be referred by your GP to a qualified audiologist.

A hearing test you get professionally will differ from the one on the app, 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 will press a button when you hear a sound).

Find out more about what to expect in a hearing test

Signs of hearing loss

Early detection of hearing loss is really important in managing the condition and accessing treatment as early as possible to minimise harm.

Key indicators of hearing loss onset include:

  • Difficulty hearing people in conversation, and needing to ask people to repeat themselves - this can be particularly pronounced in louder environments or when speaking on the phone
  • Finding it tiring or stressful having to concentrate on hearing people properly
  • A tendency to increase the volume on TV, radio or audio devices
  • A ringing in one or both ears - known as tinnitus

If you are concerned that you might have hearing loss, see your GP.

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