New smartphone app offers easy and inexpensive solution for hearing screening

July 14, 2014
A hearing test that is child’s play: Prof De Wet Swanepoel testing Keziah Maisiri (4) with hearScreen, a smart phone app.

A lightweight, automated and easy-to-use mobile health solution called hearScreen is ideal for developing countries and use in rural areas

An article published in the International Journal of Audiology on 7 July 2014 reports on an innovative smartphone app that will make it easier and cheaper to screen people, including and the elderly, for hearing loss. The project was led by Prof De Wet Swanepoel from the University of Pretoria (UP), South Africa, in partnership with colleagues at UP and in Australia.

Data from the World Health Organisation shows that more than 5% of all the people in the world (about 360 million) suffer from permanent disabling hearing loss, and more than 32 million of these are children. In developing areas, up to 80% of people with hearing loss have no prospect of early detection.

"Hearing is the cornerstone for developing language, for learning to speak and to communicate," says Prof Swanepoel, an audiologist at the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Pretoria. He is an expert in the early detection of hearing problems in babies and children. "Even minor hearing defects can have a major impact on language development and the academic performance of children, because they simply get lost within the noisy environs of a classroom."

With the introduction of a new South African health policy in 2012 that requires all Grade 1 learners – more than 1 million every year – to be screened for hearing loss, Prof Swanepoel saw the need to develop a mobile and easy-to-use hearing screening device that could replace the cumbersome and heavy apparatus that are currently used.

The newly developed app adheres to international calibration standards, can be loaded onto a low-cost, smartphone, is automated, and continuosly monitors background noise to ensure reliable testing. A screening takes only one minute and the data can be uploaded via the mobile phone network to a centralised site for evaluation and recommendations.

"Anyone who knows how to operate a mobile phone can set up the 'hearScreen' device, says Prof Swanepoel, who is also an executive board member of the International Society of Audiology. "It significantly improves and alters current models of school and community-based identification of hearing loss."

"Africa needs cost-effective and sustainable methods with which to identify hearing loss in young children," he adds. "Mobile health technologies such as this app are becoming more and more important in taking healthcare to the people who would otherwise not have access to hearing screening."

Several field trials are currently underway in schools and primary health care settings. Findings demonstrate screening outcomes equivalent to the current gold standard. The user-friendly interface and affordability opens up new models for early access to detection within underserved communities.

The hearScreen solution will be made available towards the end of the year. More information is available at

Explore further: Hearing aid use in children with mild loss improves speech

More information: De Wet Swanepoel, Hermanus C. Myburgh, David M. Howe, Faheema Mahomed & Robert H. Eikelboom, "Smartphone hearing screening with integrated quality control and data management," International Journal of Audiology 7 July 2014, DOI: 10.3109/14992027.2014.920965

Related Stories

Hearing aid use in children with mild loss improves speech

April 6, 2014
(HealthDay)—The level of hearing improvement achieved by hearing aid (HA) use in children correlates with better speech and language development, according to a study published online April 3 in JAMA Otolaryngology.

School hearing tests do not detect noise exposure hearing loss

March 20, 2014
School hearing tests cannot effectively detect adolescent high-frequency hearing loss, which is typically caused by loud noise exposure, according to researchers at Penn State College of Medicine.

App tackles problem of 'glue ear' in children

April 7, 2014
Aston University is tackling the problem of 'glue ear' in children with a free* hearing test app for any concerned families.

Smokers and passive smokers more likely to suffer hearing loss, study shows

May 29, 2014
Giving up or reducing smoking and avoiding passive exposure to tobacco smoke may reduce your risk of hearing loss, new research shows.

Implanted hearing device approved

March 20, 2014
(HealthDay)—The first implantable device for adults with a severe or profound form of a condition called "sensorineural hearing loss" has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Only one fifth of people with hearing problems wear a hearing aid

March 18, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Just a fifth of people with hearing problems wear a hearing aid, a study by The University of Manchester has found.

Recommended for you

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Safety of medical devices not often evaluated by sex, age, or race

July 25, 2017
Researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Francisco have found that few medical devices are analyzed to consider the influence of their users' sex, age, or race on safety and effectiveness.

Why you should consider more than looks when choosing a fitness tracker

July 25, 2017
A UNSW study of five popular physical activity monitors, including Fitbit and Jawbone models, has found their accuracy differs with the speed of activity, and where they are worn.

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.