Apple is using its wearable devices to study hearing loss

Apple new watchOS 6 will track safety noise levels
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Apple is known for a lot of things. Its prowess in the scientific research space isn’t at the top of the list. However, the company has been involved in some innovative projects that use the devices it makes. That includes massive research studies with users who opt-in.

Thanks to the power of devices like the iPhone and Apple Watch, the company can conduct continuous studies as users go about their daily lives.

Its latest research, dubbed the Apple Hearing Study, looked at the hearing health of iOS users across the United States. Apple partnered with the University of Michigan and Dr. Rick Neitzel to analyze data, hearing screenings, and questionnaires from participants. The results of the study are eye-opening.

The researchers concluded in their preliminary results that approximately 20 percent (or one in five) of participants have some degree of hearing loss according to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Perhaps more important is the fact that study appears to indicate a link between chronic environmental noise, cardiovascular disease, and hearing loss.

Turn it Down

Everyone is guilty of turning their headphones up too loud on occasion. Some people do it more often than others. Likewise, some people live or work in environments that have noise levels that are louder than “healthy” recommendations. Both types of sound exposure contribute to problems with hearing loss when they occur frequently.

The recent Apple study included “thousands” of participants from across the U.S. who volunteered their data. Much of that data was pulled from users’ Apple Watches, which are able to measure ambient noise levels in the environment. It also included data from headphone users via their iPhone or iPad. The research team pulled heart rate and exercise data from the Apple Watch as well to determine if that contributes to hearing loss.

Ultimately, the study showed that about 10 percent of participants have weekly headphone exposure higher than the WHO recommended limit. In other words, people are listening to their favorite content at volumes that are potentially damaging to their hearing.

The environmental results were even worse. Neitzel says, “Even during this pandemic, we’re still seeing 25 percent of our participants experiencing high environmental sound exposures.”

As a result of these poor listening habits, the study found that 25 percent of participants experience ringing in their ears “a few times a week or more.” That could be a sign of permanent hearing damage. Apple and the researchers recommend that everyone should have their hearing checked periodically by a professional.

Wearable Research

While the results of Apple’s Hearing Study are interesting by themselves, the way the research was conducted is equally intriguing. It shows that wearable devices could have a far greater impact than just improving the life of their wearer.

It also isn’t the first medical-related study that Apple has done with its devices. The Apple Heart Study used Watch data to track 400,000 participants over the course of eight months.

That sort of continuous access to study participants is unprecedented. If researchers are able to glean accurate, consistent data from these studies, they could become far more common in the years to come.


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