According to the World Health Organization, 1.6 billion people worldwide are living with hearing loss. Much of this is preventable, as it stems from excessive noise, untreated ear infections, and exposure to ototoxic chemicals. About half of adolescents and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to recreational noise.
Careful monitoring can lead to better outcomes for patients with hearing loss. For example, it is estimated that 60% of childhood hearing losses can be alleviated with early detection and intervention. But rural populations often lack the specialists and technology needed to diagnose the condition.
in the The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, published on behalf of the Acoustical Society of America by AIP Publishing, Samantha Kleindienst Robler of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) with her co-authors Laura Coco of San Diego State University and Mark Krumm of Kent State University explored how digital Healthcare solutions can extend audiology services in clinical and research settings.
“Undetected and untreated, hearing loss can have significant lifelong consequences for those who rely on spoken language,” Robler said. “Preventable hearing loss can negatively impact language, communication, academic performance, career opportunities, and quality of life.”
Audiological assessment via telemedicine would allow patients to receive treatment at home or at a local clinic while a specialist is hundreds of miles away in an urban center. Instead of desktop devices in a soundproof room, the listening tests would use a wireless headset controlled by a cell phone or laptop.
“Digital health technology is versatile and can meet the patient where he is in many ways,” said Robler. “A real strength is that it can help take patient care to the next level, moving from a personal, visit-centric approach to a person-centric approach that better supports an individual’s life and needs.”
As a research tool, telemedicine would allow scientists to collect more representative and decentralized data on hearing without detracting from the results.
“Telehealth technology can also be used to prevent permanent hearing loss by monitoring people exposed to excessive occupational noise or ototoxic drugs,” said Robler.
Robler and the team at UAMS are currently expanding several audiological studies they conducted in rural Alaska. Their mission is to bridge the gap in hearing health disparities through extensive, collaborative research ranging from device development to implementation.
“There is still work to be done to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, has equal access to hearing care and that the evidence generated in hearing-related clinical trials is robust and representative,” said Robler.
Materials provided by American Institute of Physics. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.