April 10, 2014 11:02 am

Can you hear me now? An app to test your ears

New smartphone app encourages young people to get their hearing tested with a visual test

OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

It can take nine weeks to book a hearing test with a specialist in Canada. Or you could just turn on your phone.

Officially launched late last month, the “See How Well You Hear” app hopes to get people – youth, especially – to test their hearing at home using their eyesight.

“One thing we noticed was that young people are not hesitant to get their eyes tested, which was so unusual because they’re so hesitant to get their hearing tested,” said Brett Channer, president and CCO of Red Lion Canada, the app’s creator.

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Smartphone users open the app to activate the camera and take a photo. Then a ringing sound begins, transforming the picture to a blurry image. As the sound becomes higher, the image comes more into focus.

Once the user can no longer hear sound, he or she presses the stop button on the screen. A split screen compares the two. The app tells the user’s hearing quality by the picture’s blurriness: The clearer the second image – i.e., the longer you can hear the sound – the better your hearing.

If the user has impaired hearing, they can use the app to book an appointment with hearing specialist Sound Communication, which partnered on the product. Users also have the option of sharing their results on social media through Facebook or Twitter. Although testing your hearing may be covered by the province, the treatments for repairing hearing loss may vary.

Red Lion Canada developed the app in partnership Toronto hearing clinic Sound Communication. Siemens Canada also looked over the sound frequency and supports the product, Channer said.

The app is important, Channer argues, because hearing is often taken for granted – especially with younger people.

“One thing the Hearing Aid Society of Canada is noticing is that the hearing impairment of people is happening at earlier stages in life and it’s not because of aging, it’s actually because of ear buds. They’re creating such an intense pounding against the eardrum that it’s creating damage that over a period of time can create a hearing impairment,” Channer said .

A  Tel Aviv University study found that 80 per cent of teenagers use personal listening devices on a regular basis. Of them, 21 per cent listen to the between one to four hours a day without a break.

And not having healthy hearing could lead to other issues.

“If you don’t have great hearing, it can lead to problems with driving and communication. There can be misunderstandings at work and in relationships,” Channer said . “People need to get their hearing checked.”

Dr. Matthew Bromwich, a paediatric ear, nose and throat specialist in Ottawa, says getting tested younger means benefits when you’re older.

“The damage to your hearing as a young person affects your hearing as an elderly person. And, cognitively, you need your hearing for your five key senses and that can affect everything,” he said. “Having hearing loss has an impact on your adult life as well and your income. In terms of social interactions, if you can’t hear, it’s hard to be sociable. And if you’re not sociable then you don’t get the job at the interview and your income is affected.”

According to Statistics Canada, hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition in the country behind arthritis and high blood pressure.

See how else hearing impairment affects people in Canada:

Graphic assembled by Dani-Elle Dube

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