Smartphone Apps for Your Hearing Health
Smartphones and mobile-enabled tablets are more popular now than ever and so are the applications that can be used on them. Estimates show between 50 and 80 billion app downloads in 2013 alone, and it seems like hundreds of new apps show up everyday. Among these are apps dedicated to health, fitness, and other medical uses, including hearing healthcare. So, what types of hearing health apps are out there?
Decibel sensor apps
In terms of hearing, most environmental sensor applications monitor the volume level in your environment. These apps can’t help you determine whether or not you have hearing loss; however, they can help monitor sounds that could damage your hearing. These apps range in sophistication from giving you basic volume level readings to more advanced features that provide detailed information about the sound in your environment.
A recent study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, compared smartphone decibel measuring apps to professional-grade sound testing equipment and found that only 14 of 192 iPhone and Android apps even met the criteria for the test. Of those, only three iPhone apps were accurate enough to be considered useful in a professional environment.
While these apps provide quick, convenient information that give you a basic idea of sound levels, if you are concerned about a particular area—such as a workplace that seems too loud—it is important to contact a professional to evaluate that space more fully.
The best decibel sensor apps according to the study:
SPLnFFT (iPhone: $3.99)
SoundMeter (iPhone: $19.99)
NoISee (iPhone: $0.99)
Other popular decibel apps:
Sound Meter (Android: free)
Decibel Meter Pro (iPhone: $0.99)
Decibel Meter (iPhone: free)
Hearing screening apps
Some of the most common hearing health apps today can help you determine if you need to see an audiologist. Similar to decibel sensors, screening apps vary quite a bit in accuracy and complexity. The most basic apps play a tone and ask you to identify whether or not you hear it. Others try to estimate the “age” of your ears by playing high-frequency sounds that are only audible to younger children.
More complex apps attempt to mimic full hearing tests by playing several frequencies (or pitches) at various volume levels and require that you use headphones. The more complex apps can even graph your results.
Hearing screening apps may get you thinking about your hearing, but they should never serve as replacements for a professional hearing exam. If these apps give you a surprising result, make an appointment to see an audiologist for a full exam.
Popular screening apps:
uHear (iPhone: free)
Sound Check (iPhone: free)
Play It Down (iPhone: free)
Hearing-Check (iPhone: free)
NOWiHEAR (Android: free)
Test Your Hearing (Android: free)
Another category of hearing apps amplify the sounds around you. Basic amplifiers work with normal headphones or ear buds in conjunction with smartphones and tablets. Amplifier apps use the microphone of your device to pick up sounds around you and increase their volume so you can hear more comfortably.
There are a wide variety of amplifier apps. Some only increase the overall volume while others provide options similar to an equalizer for your ears. The more complex programs have options to focus only on sounds that are far away or those that are close up. And some even claim to decrease background noise.
Amplifier apps can be useful in any number of situations. A quick download and you could get a boost in volume and solve some conversational problems. Apps like these may also be useful for someone who is hesitant to purchase hearing aids. They can simulate aspects of basic hearing aids and provide some insight on how you or a family member may benefit from hearing aids. However, don’t rely on these apps as a long-term solution to hearing loss. If you have serious hearing problems, see a hearing healthcare provider for a hearing exam.
Popular amplifier apps:
HearYouNow (iPhone: free)
BioAid (iPhone: free)
Hearing Aid with Replay (Android: free)
Virtual Amp (Android: free)
soundAMP R (iPhone: $4.99)
Kikitori (iPhone: free)
Hearing aid controller apps
The last major category of hearing health apps are apps created by hearing aid manufacturers to let you control your own hearing aids. These apps allow you to coordinate and adjust your hearing aids from your smartphone.
Most hearing aids on the market today require a streaming device (typically worn around the neck) to allow Bluetooth connectivity to your phone or tablet. However, the latest hearing aid technology now lets you connect your hearing aids directly to your smartphone wirelessly.
Controller apps give you access to most of the features typically found on a remote, which means you can stop carrying your remote around—one less thing to worry about. Also, using your phone or tablet to adjust your hearing aids is less conspicuous than using other equipment, which many hearing aid users appreciate.
Control apps by manufacturer:
ReSound Smart (for use with LiNX hearing aids, iPhone: free)
TruLink (for use with Halo hearing aids, iPhone: free)
T2 Remote (for use with Bluetooth streaming devices, iPhone: free)
RemoteControl (for use with Bluetooth streaming devices, Android: free)
There are hundreds of hearing-related mobile apps on the market today. Many of them can help you easily monitor and understand your listening environment, test your hearing, and help you monitor and control and your hearing aids.
While hearing health apps continue to improve, remember that you shouldn’t expect these apps to be as accurate or as complete as a hearing exam or advice and insight given by a professional. If you have questions about the usefulness of a particular app for yourself or a loved one, a physician or audiologist can guide you toward the services and technological solutions that are most appropriate for your situation.