Sound-Level monitoring earphones with smartphone feedback as an intervention to promote healthy listening behaviors in young adults

Megan Knoetze1, Faheema Mahomed-Asmail1, Vinaya Manchaiah2,3, De Wet Swanepoel1,4,5

1 Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; 2 Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, United States of America; 3 Department of Speech and Hearing, School of Allied Health Sciences, Manipal University, Karnataka, India; 4 Ear Sciences Centre, School of Surgery, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Australia; 5 Ear Sciences Institute Australia, Subiaco, Australia

Background: More than a billion adolescents and youngsters are estimated to be at risk of acquiring recreational noise-induced hearing loss (RNIHL) due to the unsafe use of personal audio systems (PAS). RNIHL is preventable, therefore, the present study aimed to determine (i) the accuracy and reliability of dbTrack (Westone) sound-level monitoring earphones and (ii) the effect of sound-level monitoring earphones with smartphone feedback and hearing health information on listening behaviors in young adults.

Methods: The study consisted of two phases, phase 1 investigated the accuracy and reliability of sound-level monitoring earphones. Accuracy was determined by comparing earphone measurements to sound level meter measurements. Intra-device and within-subject reliability were determined by comparing sound measurements. For phase 2 of the study, a single-group pretest-posttest design was utilised. Participants utilized sound-level monitoring earphones with an accompanying dbTrack smartphone application for 4 weeks. The application’s smartphone feedback was disabled during the first 2 weeks (pretest condition) and enabled during last 2 weeks (posttest condition).

Results: Phase 1 dbTrack earphone measurements were within 1 dB when compared to sound level meter measurements. Earphones were also within 1 dB in repeated measures across earphones and across participants. Phase 2 posttest average daily intensity decreased by 8.7 dB (18.3 SD), duration decreased by 7.6 minutes (46.6 SD) and sound dose decreased by 4128.4% (24965.5% SD). Differences in intensity and sound dose were significantly lower with a small and medium effect size, respectively.

Conclusions: Sound-level monitoring earphones with a calibrated in-ear microphone can reliably and accurately measure PAS sound exposure. Feedback on sound exposure using accurate sound-level monitoring earphones with an accompanying app can promote safe listening behavior in young adults and reduce the risk of acquiring RNIHL.

Knoetze et al
dbTrack (Westone) technology