Deafness and hearing loss: Hearing checks and the hearWHO app

1 March 2018 | Q&A

Many people with hearing loss are unaware of it. Regular hearing checks can ensure that hearing loss is identified as early as possible so that you can take action and continue enjoying the sounds around you.

Any one is at risk of hearing loss, however, hearing loss is most likely to occur in people who:

  • are above 60 years of age
  • listen often to loud music
  • work in noisy environments
  • take medicines that can damage the ear

Hearing loss means a reduction in the ability to hear. There are different grades of hearing loss:

  • Mild: some difficulty in understanding soft speech or speech in noisy places
  • Moderate: difficulty in hearing regular conversations
  • Severe: difficulty in hearing all except loud sounds
  • Profound: inability to hear even loud sounds

If hearing loss is not addressed, it can affect people in different ways: children might have difficulties learning; adults might have challenges performing at work and older people might experience isolation and uneasiness. In general, if it is not addressed, hearing loss can make it difficult to understand conversations and fully engage socially. Read the factsheet for more information.

Listening to loud music for long periods tires and damages sensory cells within your ears. At first you might experience just temporary hearing loss, which manifests as muffled sounds or a ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus). Over time, it causes permanent damage with irreversible hearing loss and tinnitus.

You can care for your ears by:

  • Making sure that you never insert any object into your ear (not even a cotton swab)
  • Keeping the volume low and limiting the time spent listening (find additional information in the link below)
  • Using earplugs in noisy places or when doing noisy activities
  • Visiting a doctor in case of any pain or discharge from the ear
  • Seeking help from a health care professional, if you feel that you may not be hearing well or have tinnitus

Information on safe listening

A professional hearing assessment is required to diagnose hearing loss. A very common test is the audiometry - it identifies the minimum sound level (in decibels) at which you can hear different sound frequencies (pitch). It is used to identify the presence, type and grade of hearing loss. The hearWHO app uses a different test to diagnose hearing loss.

The management of hearing loss depends upon its cause, type and grade. You should consult a health care professional who can advise you about the most suitable interventions.

A hearing test is likely to be available at a medical facility such as a secondary or tertiary level hospital. If you are not sure, it would be best to ask a health care professional about where such a test can be done.

The hearWHO app is based on digits-in-noise hearing screening technology. The screening presents three digits over background noise, to which you are prompted to respond. The screening determines your signal to noise ratio which is indicative of your hearing ability. Should you not receive a favourable outcome from this screening, you should seek medical attention from a health care professional.

This ‘digits-in-noise’ test has a sensitivity and specificity of over 85%.* However, WHO and the developers of this app cannot be held responsible or liable for any incorrect results. hearWHO is intended for use by people 18 years of age and above. This version of the hearWHO app is not for use for hearing checks for children, as it will not provide reliable results.
*: Potgieter et al 2016; Potgieter et al 2017; Potgieter et al 2018

No, the test evaluates your ability to hear speech in background noise. As long as the speech is at a comfortable listening level, the volume should not affect the outcome.

The test has been developed and normed according to the instruction to guess if you are uncertain. The chances of correctly guessing several digits in a closed set of 10 options are highly unlikely.

This has been one of the standard test development approaches for digits-in-noise testing across several countries. It ensures a sufficient number of trials for a reliable speech reception threshold.