iPhone hearing app enables custom sound enhancement

UC Irvine researchers are preparing to release EarTrumpet − an iPhone hearing-assistance application that lets users tailor the way that sounds are enhanced.

’Other hearing-aid applications simply make sound louder at all frequencies,’ said Dr Hamid Djalilian, director of otology, neurotology and skull-base surgery at UC Irvine Medical Center. ’We wanted [ours] to work just like a hearing aid, where one can choose which pitches to amplify. People usually have high-pitch hearing loss and don’t need to amplify low-pitch sounds.’

Allowing the user to adjust pitch volumes, however, led to another challenge. ’Most people don’t know which pitches need amplification or by how much. So we added a hearing test that permits the user to identify and then fine tune just the pitches where there is hearing loss,’ he said. Commercial hearing aids rely on audiologists to adjust the pitch amplification.

Other features include an intense volume boost, preset equaliser profiles that reduce background noise and enhance common frequencies, and adjustable volume for each ear.

The application may also prove useful to people who aren’t yet sure they need auditory assistance. ’Some might realise they could benefit from a complete evaluation and, possibly, a more traditional hearing aid,’ Djalilian said.

Though EarTrumpet is a good screening tool, he cautions that it should not replace professional testing: ’An audiologist is trained to look for other problems you may have, so you don’t want to miss that.’

The software also boasts a testing mode that analyses whether a room is quiet enough for the exam to be effective, as well as advanced algorithms to filter out unwanted environmental noise.