VALIDITY OF DIAGNOSTIC PURE TONE AUDIOMETRY USING A SOUND-TREATED ENVIRONMENT

VALIDITY OF DIAGNOSTIC PURE TONE AUDIOMETRY USING A SOUND-TREATED ENVIRONMENT
VALIDITY OF DIAGNOSTIC PURE TONE AUDIOMETRY USING A
PORTABLE COMPUTERISED AUDIOMETER WITHOUT A
SOUND-TREATED ENVIRONMENT
FELICITY JANE MACLENNAN-SMITH
A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree
M.COMMUNICATION PATHOLOGY
In the Department of Communication Pathology at the
UNIVERSITY OF PRETORIA
FACULTY OF HUMANITIES
SUPERVISOR: PROFESSOR DE WET SWANEPOEL
CO-SUPERVISOR: PROFESSOR JAMES W. HALL lll
JANUARY 2013
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
FIGURES ………………………………………………………………………………….... 5
TABLES ……………………………………………………………………………………... 6
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ..……………………………………………………………… 7
ABSTRACT………………………………………………………………………………….. 8
KEY WORDS ..……………………………………………………………………………… 9
1. INTRODUCTION …………………………………………………………………….... 10
1.1. Rationale ...…………………………………………………………………………… 11
1.2. Problem Statement ………………………………………………………………….. 12
2. METHODOLOGY ……………………………………………………………………… 14
2.1. Research objectives ………………………………………………………………… 14
2.2. Research design ..…………………………………………………………………… 15
2.3. Ethical considerations ..……………………………………………………………... 15
2.4. Research participants ..……………………………………………………………... 18
2.5. Data collection equipment ..………………………………………………………… 20
2.6. Data collection and analysis procedures ..………………………………………... 25
2.6.1. Data collection procedures ..……………………………………………………... 25
2.6.2. Data processing and analysis procedures ..……………………………………. 29
3. VALIDITY OF DIAGNOSTIC PURE TONE AUDIOMETRY WITHOUT A
SOUND-TREATED ENVIRONMENT IN OLDER ADULTS .…………………….... 30
3.1. Abstract ..……………………………………………………………………………... 30
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3.2. Introduction .………………………………………………………………………….. 31
3.3. Method ..…………………………………………………………………………….... 35
3.3.1. Subjects ..…………………………………………………………………………... 35
3.3.2. Equipment ..………………………………………………………………………... 35
3.3.3. Procedures ..……………………………………………………………………….. 39
3.3.4. Analysis ..…………………………………………………………………………… 41
3.4 Results ..……………………………………………………………………………….. 42
3.5 Discussion ..…………………………………………………………………………… 50
3.6 Conclusion ..…………………………………………………………………………... 53
3.7 Acknowledgements ..………………………………………………………………… 54
3.8 Declaration of interest ..……………………………………………………………… 54
4. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ..………………………………………………... 55
4.1 Discussion of results …………………………………………………………………. 57
4.1.1 Ambient noise levels ………………….…………………………………………… 57
4.1.2 Hearing threshold comparisons …..……………………………………………… 58
4.2 Clinical implications and recommendations ..……………………………………... 60
4.3 Critical evaluation and contribution to the field of audiology …………………….. 63
4.4 Future research ..…………………………………………………………………….. 66
4.5 Conclusion ..…………………………………………………………………………... 68
5. REFERENCES ………………………………………………………………………… 69
6. APPENDICES .…………………………………………………………………………. 78
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Appendix A: Ethical clearance ..……………………………………………………….... 79
Appendix B: Letter to management/Body Corporate of retirement facilities ..……… 81
Appendix C: Permission from retirement facilities ...………………………………….. 84
Appendix D: Letter to residents of retirement centres, English and Afrikaans …….. 88
Appendix E: Informed consent form for respondent, English and Afrikaans ……… 93
Appendix F: Agreement from Rotary Hermanus ………………………………........... 96
Appendix G: The ‘Familiar Sounds’ audiogram for feedback to participants ………. 98
Appendix H: Calibration certificate of sound-treated booth ..………………………...100
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FIGURES
Figure 2.1 KUDUwave audiometer showing insert earphones, circumaural
earcups housing audiometers and forehead bone conductor
mounted centrally on headband ………………………………………....... 23
Figure 2.2 Screenshot of KUDUwave software demonstrating real-time
monitoring of ambient noise levels while establishing
thresholds...…………………………………………………………………... 24
Figure 3.1 KUDUwave audiometer showing insert earphones, circumaural
earcups housing audiometers and forehead bone conductor
mounted centrally on headband …………………………………………... 38
Figure 3.2 Screenshot of KUDUwave software demonstrating real-time
monitoring of ambient noise levels while establishing
thresholds …………………………………….. …………………………….. 39
Figure 3.3 Average absolute difference between air conduction thresholds
recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment
(error bars = 1 SD) ………………………………………..…………………. 47
Figure 3.4 Average absolute difference between bone conduction
thresholds recorded in the natural and audiometric booth
environment (error bars = 1 SD)…………………………………………… 48
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TABLES
Table 2.1 Selection criteria for research participants .………………………………... 19
Table 3.1 Difference in air conduction thresholds recorded in the natural and
audiometric booth environment (Thresholds recorded in the booth
subtracted from those recorded in the natural environment)……………... 43
Table 3.2 Difference in bone conduction thresholds recorded in the natural and
audiometric booth environment (Thresholds recorded in the booth
subtracted from those recorded in the natural environment)………….….. 44
Table 3.3 Difference in air and bone conduction thresholds ≤25 dB and >25 dB
recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment (Thresholds
recorded in the booth subtracted from those recorded in the natural
environment)…………………………………………………………………… 46
Table 3.4 Absolute difference in air and bone conduction dB thresholds recorded
in the natural and audiometric booth environment (Left & Right ears
combined)………………………………………………………………………. 48
Table 3.5 Pearson correlation coefficients for air and bone conduction thresholds
recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment …………….. 49
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LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
AC – Air Conduction
ANSI – American National Standards Institute
ASHA – American Speech Hearing Association
BC – Bone Conduction
dB – Decibel
HL – Hearing Level
Hz – Hertz
IEC – International Equipment Calibration
ISO – International Standards Organisation
PT – Pure Tone
SANS – South African National Standards
UN – United Nations
WHO – World Health Organisation
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ABSTRACT
It is estimated that 10% of the global population is impaired to a significant degree by
a decrease in hearing sensitivity. With the greatest proportion of these persons
residing in developing countries where communities are grossly underserved, it is
incumbent on hearing healthcare professionals to seek means of offering equitable
hearing health care services to these communities. The delivery of conventional
diagnostic hearing services to these population groups is challenged by limitations in
human resources, financial constraints and by the dearth of audiometric testing
facilities that are compliant with permissible ambient noise levels for reliable testing.
Valid diagnostic hearing assessment without an audiometric test booth will allow
greater mobility of services and could extend hearing healthcare service delivery in
underserved areas. The purpose of this study was to investigate the validity of
diagnostic pure tone audiometry in a natural environment, outside a sound treated
room, using a computer-operated audiometer with insert earphones covered by
circumaural earcups incorporating real-time monitoring of environmental noise.
A within-subject repeated measures research design was employed to assess elderly
adults with diagnostic air (250 to 8000 Hz) and bone (250 to 4000 Hz) conduction
pure tone audiometry. The study was of a quantitative nature and the required data
was collected by testing subjects initially in a natural environment and subsequently
in a sound booth environment to compare the threshold measurements. One
experienced audiologist used audiometric KUDUwave test equipment to evaluate
subjects in both environments. A total of 147 adults with an average age of 76 (± 5.7)
years were tested. Ears had pure tone averages (500, 1000, 2000 and 4000 Hz) of ≥
25 dB in 59%, >40 dB in 23% and ˃ 55 dB in 6% of cases.
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Analysis
of
collected
data
showed
air
conduction
thresholds
(n = 2259)
corresponding within 0 to 5 dB in 95% of all comparisons between testing in the
natural and sound booth environments. Bone conduction thresholds (n = 1669)
corresponded within 0 to 5 dB in 86% of comparisons and within 10 dB or less in
97% of cases. Average threshold differences (–0.6 to 1.1) and standard deviations
(3.3 to 5.9) were within typical test-retest reliability limits. Recorded thresholds
showed no statistically significant differences with a paired samples t-test (p ˃ 0.01)
except at 8000 Hz in the left ear. Overall the correlation between the air-conduction
thresholds recorded in the sound booth environment and the natural environment
was very high (˃ 0.92) across all frequencies while for bone conduction threshold
correlation for the two environments fell between 0.63 and 0.97.
This study demonstrates that valid diagnostic pure tone audiometry in an elderly
population can be performed in a natural environment using an audiometer
employing insert earphones covered by circumaural earcups with real-time
monitoring of ambient noise levels. Mobile diagnostic audiometry performed outside
of an audiometric sound booth may extend current hearing healthcare services to
remote underserved communities where booths are scarce or inaccessible. In
combination with Telehealth applications this technology could offer a powerful and
viable alternate diagnostic service to persons unable to attend conventional testing
facilities for whatever reasons.
Key Words: Hearing tests; Air conduction; Bone conduction; Computer-operated
audiometer; Ambient noise; Natural environment; Sound-treated booth; Hearing
healthcare services; Underserved communities; Extended service delivery.
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1. INTRODUCTION
Hearing loss has a mild to profound impact on communicative functioning depending
on a host of factors including severity, age of identification and age of onset (Bess,
Lichtenstein, Logan, Burger & Nelson, 1989; Yoshinaga-Itano, Sedey, Coulter &
Mehl, 1998). The best strategy for optimal benefit from intervention is the early
identification of hearing impairment regardless of age. This is the goal of audiologists
(Hall & Mueller, 1997).
The prevalence of hearing loss is increasing in populations in general and particularly
more so in certain age groups (Weinstein, 2009). Of all groups of individuals, those
over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk for sensory-neural hearing loss
(Cruickshanks et al., 1998). It is estimated that approximately one third of adults
older than 65 years of age present with significant hearing loss, with a prevalence of
94% for high frequency impairment (Cruickshanks et al., 2003; Mitchell et al., 2011).
Prevalence of hearing loss rises to approximately 63% in those 71+ years of age
(Wilson et al., 1999) and to 90% in those over the age of 80 (Cruickshanks et al.,
1998). Hearing loss in the older adult is neither trivial nor benign. The reduction in
quality of life is proportionate to the increase in hearing impairment. As an individual’s
potential to interact with the environment diminishes, auditory-verbal communication
that is vital to relationships is compromised relating to associated poorer quality of life
and functional health (Bess, Lichtenstein, Logan, Burger & Nelson, 1989; Wilson et
al., 1999).
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1.1 Rationale
As science continues to contribute to the reduction of mortality, the group of older
adults is growing significantly. The fastest growing segment of the population is that
of the over 80 group (UN, 2001). This segment is currently increasing at 3.8 per cent
per year and comprises more than one tenth of the total number of older persons. By
the middle of the century, one fifth of older persons will be 80 years or older (UN,
2001). Despite this institutional barriers still limit services to the older adult
population. The average adult with hearing impairment waits more than ten years
before seeking audiological assistance and the average age of new hearing aid users
is almost 70 years (Weinstein, 2009). The silent nature of hearing loss, diminishing
physical mobility, limited access to transport and sound-treated diagnostic facilities,
together with cost, all contribute to the lack of motivation and opportunity to address
the impairment. Considering the prevalence of hearing loss in older population
groups, and the far-reaching negative consequences of such impairment,
audiologists should become part of preventative hearing health care and early
intervention by means of screening and identification programmes. Screening
procedures involve the examination of asymptomatic persons to determine whether
they do or do not exhibit the disorder of interest (Gravel, Fischer & Chase, 2009).
Screening in places such as retirement homes or communities, presents the
audiologist with a number of challenges. The first of these is the management of
ambient noise. Test stimulus levels often need to be set above the 20dBHL
recommended by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA,
1997). This particularly compromises the identification of minimal hearing loss.
Secondly and in contrast to the first challenge, it is incumbent on audiologists to limit
over-referrals that may arise from ineffective management of ambient noise (ASHA,
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1997). Thirdly a prerequisite of any screening programme is the follow-up
accessibility and availability of diagnostic and treatment facilities for the individual, in
addition to the likelihood of reasonable compliance (Gravel et al., 2009).
Diagnostic hearing tests are ideally performed in specially constructed sound-treated
chambers with very low levels of background noise. Because pure tone (PT) stimuli
presented close to normal thresholds may be masked by extraneous noise, there are
strict guidelines for maximum permissible ambient noise levels in audiometric test
booths (Schlauch & Nelson, 2009). Centres for diagnostic audiometry are
constrained by the financial outlay for a test booth or sound-treated room and the
lack of hearing health care professionals (Swanepoel, 2010; Swanepoel, Olusanya &
Mars, 2010a). Most of these centres are therefore located in cities and large towns.
For the rural population, attendance at a sound-treated facility is fraught by the
practicalities of distance, the lack of suitable transportation and of funds for
transportation. This is particularly significant in developing countries such as South
Africa (Swanepoel, 2010; Swanepoel et al., 2010a).
1.2 Problem Statement
Notwithstanding the availability of diagnostic centres, attendance by some older
adults may be impeded by their poor physical mobility and lack of suitable
transportation. Thus non-compliance following screening procedures becomes
relevant in service delivery to communities. It is incumbent on audiologists to seek
effective alternate methods of identifying and diagnosing individuals in need of
intervention by extending the availability of diagnostic procedures to these individuals
in their area and community.
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A newly developed portable PC-based audiometer (KUDUwave by GeoAxon), which
actively monitors environmental noise levels throughout testing and also utilizes
double attenuation in the form of insert and circumaural earphones, may be one way
of delivering diagnostic services to patients outside of conventional clinics
(Swanepoel et al., 2010b). These features could potentially improve efficacy and
efficiency of both screening and diagnostic service delivery to communities where
attendance at a sound-treated facility is tenuous. This could contribute to improved
hearing healthcare coverage for rural areas and remote patients where specialized
audiology services are lacking. In addition, the following constraints of conventional
screening programmes, namely the management of extraneous noise and noncompliance of follow-up succeeding screening would be effectively addressed.
Given the fact that South Africa has limited financial resources within the public
sector, the delivery of responsible services is of paramount concern to the Health
Care Sector (Kaltenbrunn, Louw & Hugo, 2005). The fact that KUDUwave equipment
possibly offers a diagnostic procedure that does not necessitate the use of a soundtreated room, poses the question: What is the validity of this system when used
outside of a sound-treated environment compared to conventional diagnostic
audiometry in an audiometric test booth?
Establishing the efficacy of diagnostic audiometric equipment that can be used
outside of a test booth may provide practitioners with an alternate validated service
for delivering ear and hearing healthcare to underserved and rural communities. In
addition this technology may offer the potential of bridging the gap that currently
exists in the health care system by facilitating telemedicine applications for diagnostic
audiometry conducted outside of a conventional audiometric test booth setting
(Swanepoel, 2010).
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2. METHODOLOGY
2.1 Research Objectives
Main Aim
The main aim of this study was to determine the validity of audiometric pure tone
(PT) thresholds in older adults when measured outside an audiometric test booth
using a portable computerised audiometer.
Sub-aims
The sub-aims that addressed the main aim were:
1. To compare PT air conduction (AC) thresholds, recorded in a natural
environment using a portable computerised audiometer, to those obtained in
an audiometric test booth, in a sample of older adults.
2. To compare PT bone conduction (BC) thresholds, recorded in a natural
environment using a portable computerised audiometer, to those obtained in
an audiometric test booth, in the same sample of older adults.
Results of sub aims 1 & 2 were processed and described in the article titled Validity
of Diagnostic Pure-Tone Audiometry without a Sound-treated Environment in Older
Adults (chapter 3), which was accepted for publication in the International Journal of
Audiology on 1 October 2012 and is currently in press. Posted Early Online 11
November 2012 and available at
http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/14992027.2012.736692.
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2.2 Research Design
The goal of this study was to investigate and describe possible similarities and
differences in measured PT thresholds using different audiometric procedures. The
research design used was a repeated-measure within-subject design, where the
results of two procedures were investigated in a systematic manner and compared
within a group of subjects so that the differences or similarities between them could
be described (Hofstee, 2006; Mouton, 2008). The data gathered yielded information
that was summarized through statistical analyses thus qualifying this study as
quantitative (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). An evaluative dimension of this study is
represented by the outcome-based appraisal of the validity of the portable
computerised approach for audiometric pure tone evaluations in a natural
environment as opposed to the gold standard of an audiometric test booth (Hofstee,
2006).
2.3 Ethical Considerations
Ethical clearance for this study was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee,
Faculty Humanities, University of Pretoria, prior to the collection of any data (Leedy &
Ormrod, 2005), (Appendix A). Neither the researcher nor the supervisors are
affiliated in any way to the manufacturers of the equipment used in this study.
Whenever human beings are the focus of investigation, the ethical implications of
what is proposed needs to be carefully considered (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). In order
to protect the rights and welfare of the participants in this study the following aspects
were essentially addressed:
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Informed Consent
Participation in this study was entirely voluntary for all respondents. Hearing
assessments were conducted on site at retirement facilities. Informed consent was
obtained as follows: Appointments were arranged with the management of six
retirement facilities. Letters of request (Appendix B) were personally delivered to
each facility at which stage the researcher was available to answer questions
concerning the proposed research. In three cases the researcher was referred to the
Body Corporate of the facility. The management of two of the centres declined to
participate in the research study. Three management groups and one Body
Corporate agreed to give their residents who so wished, the opportunity to participate
in the project (Appendix C). Letters informing residents of the aims of the study, the
procedures to be followed and inviting participation were disseminated to all resident
units, including those in frail care, at each facility (Appendix D, English and
Afrikaans). In addition respondents were informed verbally of the test procedures and
the protocol to be followed prior to inclusion in the study. It was brought to their
attention both verbally and in written form that they may withdraw from the study at
any time without negative consequences. Participants were required to complete and
sign an informed consent form (Appendix E, English and Afrikaans).
Protection from Harm
Participation in a study should not increase the normal risks of day-to-day living, nor
subject the participant to unusual stress, embarrassment or loss of self-esteem. Any
possible discomfort that may accompany procedures should be explained to
participants in advance of participation (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). The collection
procedures used for this study were non-invasive, standard and routine. Refer to
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informed consent procedural letter (Appendix D, English and Afrikaans) for
respondents.
Privacy
A research study should respect a participant’s right to privacy, anonymity and
confidentiality (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Participants were guaranteed privacy both
verbally and in written format. Allocating a specific alphanumeric code to each
respondent ensured anonymity in the processing of data and reporting of findings.
Beneficence
Where excessive cerumen was present respondents were offered the option of
having it removed prior to participation in this study (Informed consent letter –
Appendix D and Informed consent form – Appendix E). Participants were required to
attend a professional practice for a second evaluation. Not all residents, in particular
those in assisted living and frail care units, had ready access to transport facilities.
The Rotary Club of Hermanus was approached for their co-operation in the
transportation of participants. The Club agreed to make motor vehicle transport
available for those who wished to make use thereof (Appendix F). Results of
audiometric findings were communicated to participants for appropriate management
of pathologies or hearing loss, so providing an identification and referral service. This
information was provided verbally to respondents in a feedback session. A copy of
the air and bone conduction audiogram was made available to each respondent
irrespective of whether the data could be used for this study. Use was made of the
‘Familiar Sounds’ audiogram to illustrate hearing thresholds and provide a copy of
the audiometric results (Appendix G).
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2.4 Research Participants
Research Population
This study sampled subjects from an adult population group of 65 years and older
who resided in retirement facilities in the Western Cape.
Sampling Method
Non-probability purposive sampling was used as the researcher could not predict or
guarantee that each element of the population would be represented in the sample
by including participants the researcher deemed as ‘typical’ of a certain age group
(Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Once initial consent (Appendix C) from each of four
retirement
facilities
was
obtained,
letters
describing
the
research
project
requirements for participation, procedures to be followed, guarantee of confidentiality
and the option of termination of participation, were disseminated to residents
(Appendix D).
This was accompanied by a document of informed consent for
completion by each respondent (Appendix E). Initially an approach of stratified
sampling was to be used to ensure that equal opportunities existed for each
respondent to participate in the study (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). The researcher found
however, that it was possible to accommodate all respondents after the selection
criteria had been applied.
Selection Criteria
The diagnostic pure tone evaluation was firstly conducted at the retirement centre in
a room provided by the facility and then followed by the same evaluation at an
audiology clinic in an audiometric booth. Individual ears were included in the study
when at both evaluations an intact tympanic membrane was otoscopically visible in
combination with a normal Type A tympanogram. These criteria excluded from the
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study six ears with possible transitory middle ear pathology. In cases of excessive
cerumen this was removed by the audiologist before testing. One of the participants
elected to seek the services of another professional for the removal of cerumen prior
to the first evaluation. The selection criteria are set out in Table 2.1
Table 2.1 Selection criteria for research participants
Criteria
Age
Description
Justification
Hearing loss in the aged contributes to
Participants
were deterioration of quality of life (Bess, et al.,
required to be over the 1989). The prevalence of hearing loss was
age of sixty five (65)
found to be 45.9 % in a group of participants
whose average age was 65.8 years (Range
45 - 92) (Cruickshanks, et al., 1998).
Screening procedures recognize the effects
Conductive Absence of conductive of fluctuating conductive hearing loss. The
A two hearing tests required from each
component component/Type
tympanogram on both participant were ideally to be performed
within two weeks between procedures.
test occasions
Possible fluctuations in hearing acuity had to
be excluded.
Language
Transport
English, Afrikaans first The researcher is proficient in English and
or
second-language Afrikaans.
speakers
Access to transport.
Participants were required to visit a
professional practice for conventional PT
audiometry. Hermanus Rotary Club made
motor vehicle transport available for those
who wished to make use thereof (Appendix
F). In the event that an applicant did not have
access to transport and was physically
unable to make use of the supplied
alternative, he/she was not considered for
participation in this study.
Description of participants
A sample of 147 elderly subjects (57% female), with an average age of 75.8 years
(SD 5.7; Range 65 – 94) were recruited from the four retirement homes for diagnostic
pure tone audiometry evaluations. In total, 59% of the ears included in the study
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(n=288) from the 147 subjects demonstrated pure tone average (0.5, 1, 2 and 4 kHz)
thresholds of 25 dB or greater. Slightly under a quarter of ears (23%) had pure tone
averages of greater than 40 dB and 6% had pure tone averages of greater than 55
dB.
2.5 Data Collection Equipment
Audiometric equipment and apparatus used for data collection are described
individually. A succinct comment on the function of each instrument is included.
Immittance Meter
Tympanometry was conducted as part of the selection criteria. An Interacoustics MT
10 handheld impedance audiometer/middle ear analyser employing a 226 Hz +/– 3%
probe tone and a pressure range of +200 to –300 daPa was used for this
measurement. A positive to negative sweep was employed with a pump speed of
250-350 daPa/second. Compliance range was 0.0-5 ml.
Audiometer
The audiometer used for diagnostic pure tone air and bone conduction was a
KUDUwave 5000 (GeoAxon, Pretoria, South Africa), a Type 2 Clinical Audiometer
(IEC 60645-1/2). The software-controlled audiometer was operated via an Acer
Travelmate 2492 Notebook running Windows XP. The audiometer hardware is
encased in each circumaural earcup and is powered by a USB cable that is plugged
into the Notebook. The transducers are custom insert earphones with circumaural
cups that cover the insert earphones after insertion, and a B-71 bone oscillator
(Kimmetrics, Smithsburg, Md.) that is placed on the forehead with a standard
adjustable spring headband. The headband is held in place on the centre of the
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circumaural headband with a screw fitting (Figure 2.1). The audiometer is equipped
with two microphones on each circumaural earcup. These monitor the environmental
noise in octave bands during testing. The ambient noise levels are visually
represented in real-time on the software throughout the evaluation (Figure 2.2). The
noise monitoring function of the KUDUwave uses a low-pass (< 125 Hz), seven
single octave band-pass (125, 250, 500, 1000, 2000, 4000 and 8000 Hz) and a highpass (˃ 8000 Hz) filter to separate the incoming sound. The output of these filters is
monitored in real-time and the peak value calculated and compared to a proprietary
volume unit ballistic profile and the higher of the two passed to the user interface
software (eMOYO) every 100 ms. The filters have a stop-band attenuation of 90 dB
and pass-band ripple of 0.003 dB.
The environment-monitoring microphones incorporated in the headset were verified
using an input signal of 1000 Hz at 94 dB SPL to show a maximum variation of
3.6 dB across microphones. Calibration of the microphones was based on an
effective attenuation level which was determined using expert subjects with normal
hearing sensitivity. This required the deep placement of insert earphones under the
circumaural earcups of the KUDUwave audiometer. Pure tone stimuli were then
presented at irregular intervals to the test subjects, at an intensity level 10 dB higher
than their threshold for the test frequency, for each octave band and inter-octave
band frequency (125 to 8000 Hz). Continuous narrowband noise was presented
through free field speakers situated at 45 degrees 1 meter in front of each subject.
The intensity of the noise was slowly increased until the pure tones could no longer
be detected. The average of these levels at each frequency and per ear was used as
the effective attenuation level for each frequency.
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A response button is connected to the KUDUwave device to record subject
responses to stimuli and to document response times. The audiometer was
calibrated prior to commencement of the study using an 824 Type 1 sound level
meter (Larson Davis, Provo, Utah) with a G.R.A.S. (Holte, Denmark) IEC 711 coupler
for insert earphones and an AMC493 Artificial Mastoid (Larson Davis) on an AEC101
coupler (Larson Davis) with 2559 ½ inch microphone for the Radioear B-71 bone
oscillator. Insert earphones were calibrated in accordance with ISO 389-2 and the
bone oscillator according to ISO 389-3.
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Figure 2.1 KUDUwave audiometer showing insert earphones, circumaural
earcups housing audiometers and forehead bone conductor mounted centrally
on headband
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Figure 2.2 Screenshot of KUDUwave software demonstrating real-time
monitoring of ambient noise levels while establishing thresholds
Audiometric Test Booth
Testing in the audiometric booth was conducted in a certified single-walled
audiometric booth adhering to the maximum permissible ambient noise levels
specified by ANSI (ANSI S3.1-1999(R2008)) for evaluating hearing to 0 dB HL from
250 to 8000 Hz. (Appendix H).
Sound Level Meter
A SVAN 957 Sound and Vibration Analyser, a Type 1 sound level analyser meeting
the IEC 61672:2002 standard was used to record average noise levels over a 30
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minute period in two of the natural test environments and in the audiometric test
booth for comparison of the ambient noise levels in each environment.
Otoscope
A Heine otoscope was used for otoscopic examinations and cerumen management.
Cerumen Management Equipment
Curette by Jobson-Horne, Ear loop by Billeau, Crocodile tweezers, light source (head
torch) and standard sterilization equipment.
2.6 Data Collection and Analysis Procedures
2.6.1 Data Collection Procedures
Subject Assessments
An otoscopic examination and tympanometry was conducted prior to each evaluation
for the purpose of identifying any transient middle ear pathology that would have
excluded a subject from participation in the study. Each subject was tested twice, by
the same experienced audiologist, with diagnostic air (250, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000,
4000, 6000, and 8000 kHz) and bone conduction (250, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, and
4000 Hz) pure tone audiometry. The same KUDUwave audiometer was utilised for all
diagnostic threshold measurements. The initial evaluation took place at the
retirement facility, where the suitability for inclusion of the respondent in this study
was established by applying the criteria requirements. Testing sequence was held
constant, to limit procedure variability for the optimum comparison between the two
test environments. By conducting the initial test in the natural retirement facility
environment potential travelling costs and inconvenience were limited in the event
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that a respondent proved not to meet the selection criteria. The natural environment
provided by the retirement facility constituted a quiet furnished or semi-furnished
room. An attempt was made to ensure that the test environment be free of
distractions by placing a request for silence sign on the door of the room where the
tests were conducted (Franks, 2001). The presenter sat in front of the subject but the
wall behind her was kept blank.
The second evaluation was conducted with the subject in a certified audiometric test
booth at an audiology clinic. Initial test results were not visible to the audiologist
during the second evaluation, nor were they accessed prior to the test in the booth.
The average time interval between tests was 6.4 (± 6.2 SD) days with the longest
period being 42 days.
For air conduction pure tone threshold measurements insert foam tips of 12mm in
length were fully inserted in the ear canal and then covered by the circumaural
earcups of the audiometer for additional attenuation (insert earphone and
circumaural earcup attenuation). Berger, Kieper and Gauger (2003) reported average
attenuation for deeply inserted insert foam plugs covered by circumaural earphones,
which is similar to the current study’s double attenuation, of 57, 62, 49, 40, 50 and 50
dB for 250, 500, 1000, 2000, 4000 and 8000 Hz, respectively. These attenuation
values exceed that of typical transportable sound-treated booths (Franks, 2001).
Exceptions for full 12 mm depth of insertion were made in a small number of cases
where stenosis was present. In these instances the inserts were placed as deeply as
possible into the ear canals without causing discomfort.
Forehead placement bone conduction audiometry was conducted with both ears
occluded by the deep insertion of the earphone and the circumaural earcup. This was
done to increase the attenuation of ambient noise levels (Berger, 1983; Berger &
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Killion, 1989; Berger et al., 2003) and to minimize the occlusion effect. By placing
insert earphones down to the bony part of the ear canal the occlusion effect is
reduced allowing for bone conduction evaluation with occluded ears (Dean & Martin,
2000; Stenfelt & Goode, 2005; Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011). Deep insertion required
removal of cerumen by the audiologist in 24.5% of the subjects prior to their being
included in this study.
Verbal instructions were given in either English or Afrikaans and the participant was
required to demonstrate an understanding of the test procedures before
commencement of the evaluation. Subject responses with a patient response button
allowed for recording reaction times for true positive responses within 1.5 seconds
after stimulus presentation. Thresholds were measured using a routine modified 10
dB down and 5 dB up bracketing method (modified Hughson-Westlake method) and
commenced at 1000 Hz and 40 dB HL in the left ear, proceeding to the lower
frequencies before recording thresholds at high frequencies. In the absence of a
response at 40 dB HL the intensity of the tone was increased in steps of 10 dB until a
response was noted, from where the bracketing method recommenced. When the
AC thresholds in test and non-test ears differed by 75 dB or more at frequencies of
1000 Hz and below and 50 dB or more at frequencies above 1000 Hz, effective
masking of 30 dB above the air conduction threshold of the non-test ear was
employed and a plateau sought. A continuous contralateral effective masking level of
20 dB above the air conduction threshold of the non-test ear was used for the
forehead bone conduction audiometry (ASHA, 2005). Thresholds were evaluated
down to a minimum of 0 dB HL.
Ambient noise levels were actively monitored across octave bands throughout the
test procedures in both test environments. When the noise exceeded the maximum
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ambient noise level allowed for establishing a threshold, as based on the effective
attenuation level of the KUDUwave software, the audiologist waited for the transient
noise to abate or continued testing at other frequencies.
All information and data was collected and documented on the KUDUwave software.
The age, gender, dates, time lapse in days between test procedures, otoscopic
findings, tympanogram type and notes were recorded on the software. Audiometric
threshold findings were documented, and described for the experimental (natural
environment) and controlled (sound-treated booth) conditions. The research process
used four sets of data from each participant as follows:

Audiometric measurement of AC thresholds using the KUDUwave audiometer in a
quiet room (natural environment) at a retirement facility.

Audiometric measurement of AC thresholds using the KUDUwave in an audiometric
test booth.

Audiometric measurement of BC thresholds using the KUDUwave audiometer in a
quiet room (natural environment) at a retirement facility.

Audiometric measurement of BC thresholds using the KUDUwave in an audiometric
test booth.
All data was collected bilaterally from each participant although data from six ears
necessitated exclusion due to possible transitory middle ear pathology. Subjects
were made aware of the fact that the test could be terminated at any time should
he/she feel unable or unwilling to continue with any of the procedures. Verbal and
written feedback of hearing thresholds was given to each participant following the
second hearing test (Appendix G).
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Ambient Noise Measurements
Average noise levels were recorded over a 30 minute period with a Type 1 sound
level meter in two of the retirement homes and in the certified audiometric test booth
environment for comparison.
2.6.2 Data Processing and Analysis Procedures
As the data of this study is of a quantitative nature it was entered into a Microsoft
Excel data sheet before exporting to SPSS (v.19). The threshold data for air- and
bone conduction testing in the two environments was analysed descriptively with
average differences and absolute average differences presented with respective
distributions. Correspondence of thresholds between the natural and clinical
environment was described in percentages and with 95% Confidence Intervals.
Inferential statistics using a Paired Samples t-Test with the significance level at 1%
determined whether hearing thresholds differed significantly, statistically and
clinically, between natural and clinical environments. Pearson correlation coefficients
for air and bone conduction thresholds recorded in the natural and audiometric booth
environment described the correlation between the thresholds measured in the two
environments.
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3. VALIDITY OF DIAGNOSTIC PURE-TONE AUDIOMETRY WITHOUT A SOUNDTREATED ENVIRONMENT IN OLDER ADULTS
Authors: Felicity Maclennan-Smith, De Wet Swanepoel and James W Hall III
Journal: International Journal of Audiology
Accepted: 1 October 2012
Online electronic publication: ISSN 1499-2027 print/ISSN 1708-8186
DOI: 10.3109/14992027.2012.736692
Note: This article was edited in accordance with the editorial specifications of the
journal and may differ from the editorial style of the rest of this document.
3.1 ABSTRACT
Objective: To investigate the validity of diagnostic pure-tone audiometry in a natural
environment using a computer-operated audiometer with insert earphones covered
by circumaural earcups incorporating real-time monitoring of environmental noise.
Design: A within-subject repeated measures design was employed to compare air
(250 to 8000 Hz) and bone (250 to 4000 Hz) conduction pure-tone thresholds
measured in retirement facilities with thresholds measured in a sound-treated booth.
Study sample: 147 adults (average age 76 ± 5.7 years) were evaluated. Pure-tone
averages were ≥ in 59%, mildly (>40 dB) elevated in 23% and moderately (>55 dB)
elevated in 6% of ears. Results: Air-conduction thresholds (n=2259) corresponded
within 0 to 5 dB in 95% of all comparisons between the two test environments. Boneconduction thresholds (n=1669) corresponded within 0 to 5 dB in 86% of
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comparisons. Average threshold differences (-0.6 to 1.1) and standard deviations
(3.3 to 5.9) were within typical test-retest reliability limits. Thresholds recorded
showed no statistically significant differences (Paired Samples T-test: p˃0.01) except
at 8000 Hz in the left ear. Conclusion: Valid diagnostic pure-tone audiometry can be
performed in a natural environment with recently developed technology, offering the
possibility of access to diagnostic audiometry in communities where sound-treated
booths are unavailable.
Key Words: Audiometry; air conduction; bone conduction; computer-operated
audiometer; ambient noise; natural environment; sound booth
Abbreviations
AC Air conduction
BC Bone conduction
3.2 INTRODUCTION
Pure-tone audiometry has remained the unequivocal gold standard for assessment of
hearing since its widespread inception as a clinical tool more than six decades ago. A
prerequisite for reliable audiometry measures is a controlled test environment with
sufficiently low level of ambient noise to ensure background noise does not mask
hearing thresholds as low as 0 dB HL. An adequate test environment is typically
achieved by employing audiometric test booths or sound-treated rooms that are
specially constructed to provide a sound-isolated environment for testing. Standards
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of international and national bodies such as the American National Standards
Institute (ANSI) and the South African National Standards (SANS) require that
ambient noise levels in audiometric test rooms be sufficiently low so as to ensure that
hearing thresholds are not artificially elevated.
The compliance of audiometric booths with permissible ambient noise levels
specified by ANSI (ANSI S3.1-1999(R2008)) has however been surprisingly poor. A
study by Frank and Williams (1993) measured noise levels in 136 audiometric test
rooms in various audiological facilities. For air-conduction testing using supra-aural
earphones only 50% of booths had sufficiently low ambient noise levels for testing
250 to 8000 Hz (ANSI S3.1-1999). For bone-conduction testing with ears uncovered,
permissible ambient noise levels were sufficient in only 14% of booths for testing 250
to 8000 Hz. In a similar study conducted on 490 single-walled prefabricated
audiometric booths used for industrial testing only 33% met the ANSI (ANSI S3.11999) minimum permissible noise levels (Frank & Williams, 1994).
Another compliance concern related to audiometric booths is that they are to be
certified annually during a “typical” working day to ensure compliance with
permissible ambient noise levels standards (ANSI, 1999; OSHA, 1983). Transient
sources of noise can however vary during a “typical” or “atypical” day or days and
may affect test results without the clinician’s knowledge (Frank & Williams, 1993;
Frank & Williams, 1994).
Apart from compliance concerns, audiometric sound booths and sound-treated
rooms have other limitations related to expense and mobility. The booths appropriate
for diagnostic audiometry are usually more costly than the audiometer, especially for
double-walled rooms. Furthermore because of their size and weight, sound-treated
booths almost always remain in one location, and cannot be transported to test sites.
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Mobile booths are used for occupational screening purposes and require calibration
after each relocation for compliance with specified standards (ANSI, 1999; OSHA,
1983). The use of mobile booths is cumbersome and often not financially viable for
servicing patients, who, in need of diagnostic audiometry, are unable to attend
audiological centres (e.g. bed ridden patients or patients in retirement homes). The
expense of sound-treated booths and their lack of mobility hinder the delivery of
diagnostic audiometry services in lower-income developing countries where they are
often unavailable or restricted to large cities (Swanepoel, Clark et al, 2010;
Swanepoel, Olusanya & Mars, 2010). The challenge of accessing a proper sound
environment is also particularly pertinent for the growing field of telemedicine
applications in audiometry which demonstrates the potential to provide services in
remote and underserved regions (Swanepoel, Clark et al, 2010; Swanepoel,
Olusanya & Mars, 2010).
Owing to the above limitations and challenges related to sound-booths, alternate
passive and active noise reduction approaches in headphone sets have been
investigated to allow for sufficient attenuation for reliable testing down to 0 dB HL.
Supra-aural earphones by themselves provide limited attenuation of ambient noise,
especially in lower frequencies (Berger & Killion, 1989; Arlinger, 1986; Frank &
Wright, 1990). The use of supra-aural earphones within noise-reducing enclosures
has been evaluated in an attempt to improve attenuation to allow for compliant
testing in environments with high ambient noise levels. Although these provide
additional attenuation, they are insufficient for diagnostic testing down to 0 dB,
especially at lower frequencies (Frank, Greer & Magistro, 1997).
In addition,
thresholds are further elevated with poorer test-retest reliability than regular supraaural earphones (Frank, Greer & Magistro, 1997).
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Insert earphones are recommended as a more effective way of reducing ambient
noise levels for compliant testing (Frank, Greer & Magistro, 1997; Berger & Killion,
1989). According to Berger and Killion (1989), insert earphones that are properly
placed within the external ear canal can provide 30 to 40 dB of attenuation of
ambient noise which is sufficient to allow for testing down to audiometric zero across
the frequency range of 125 to 8000 Hz in typical office noise environments. The
attenuation with insert earphones may be prone to some variability owing to insertion
depth even though hearing thresholds measured with insert earphones are
consistent (Berger & Killion, 1989; Clark & Roeser, 1988). Adding earmuffs or
circumaural earcups over the insert earphones provides a further increase in
attenuation (Berger, 1983; Berger, Kieper & Gauger, 2003). Active noise reduction
headphone technology may also be included in these circumaural earcups covering
insert earphones. Bromwich et al (2008) used a combination of circumaural active
noise cancellation earphones covering insert earphones and demonstrated that with
30 dB SPL ambient noise levels in the sound field no shifts in hearing thresholds
were noticed across frequencies (250 – 4000 Hz). Ambient noise exceeding this level
can however result in threshold elevations (Bromwich et al, 2008) and the active
circuitry may raise the noise floor to unacceptable levels.
The benefit of increased attenuation using insert earphones covered with circumaural
earcups is therefore negated if the ambient environmental noise is not monitored
continually to ensure compliance while each threshold is measured. The current
study investigated the validity of hearing threshold estimation in a natural
environment with a recently validated audiometer (Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011)
utilizing insert earphones covered by circumaural earcups that incorporate external
microphones monitoring environmental noise levels during testing.
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3.3 METHOD
This repeated-measure within-subject study was approved by the institutional Ethics
Committee of the University of Pretoria in South Africa and all subjects provided
informed consent prior to participation.
3.3.1 Subjects
A sample of 147 elderly subjects (57% female) with an average age of 75.8 years
(SD 5.7; Range 65 – 94) was recruited from four retirement homes in the Western
Cape, South Africa, for diagnostic pure-tone audiometry evaluations conducted first
at the retirement home in a room provided by the facility and followed by the same
evaluation at an audiology clinic in an audiometric booth. Individual ears were
included in the study when at both evaluations an intact tympanic membrane was
otoscopically visible in combination with a normal Type A tympanogram. These
criteria excluded from the study six ears with possible transitory middle ear
pathology. In cases of excessive cerumen this was removed by the audiologist
before testing. In total, 59% of the ears included in the study (n=288) from the 147
subjects demonstrated pure-tone average (500, 1000, 2000 and 4000 Hz) thresholds
of 25 dB or greater. Nearly a quarter (23 %) of ears had pure-tone averages of
greater than 40 dB and 6% had pure-tone averages of greater than 55 dB.
3.3.2 Equipment
Tympanometry was conducted as part of the screening procedure using an
Interacoustics MT 10 handheld impedance audiometer/middle ear analyser
employing a 226 Hz probe tone. The audiometer used was a KUDUwave 5000
(GeoAxon, Pretoria, South Africa), a Type 2 Clinical Audiometer (IEC 60645-1/2) that
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was software controlled and operated via a Notebook (Acer Travelmate 2492 running
Windows XP). The audiometer hardware was encased in each circumaural earcup
and was powered by a USB cable plugged into the Notebook. The transducers
included embedded custom insert earphones, which were covered by the
circumaural cups after insertion. The insert earphone frequency response
approximated that of the ER3A within 1 dB across test frequencies allowing for the
use of the international insert earphone standard (ISO 389-2, 1994) for calibration. A
B-71 bone oscillator (Kimmetrics, Smithsburg, Md.) was placed on the forehead with
a standard adjustable spring headband held in place on the centre of the circumaural
headband with a screw fitting (Figure 3.1).
The audiometer had two microphones on the circumaural earcup that monitored the
environmental noise in octave bands during testing and was visually represented in
real-time on the software (Figure 3.2). The noise-monitoring function of the
KUDUwave used low-pass (< 125 Hz), seven single octave band-pass (125, 250,
500, 1000, 2000, 4000 and 8000 Hz) and high-pass (˃8000 Hz) filters to separate the
incoming sound. The output of these filters was monitored in real-time and the peak
value calculated and compared to a proprietary volume unit ballistic profile and the
higher of the two passed to the user interface software (eMOYO) every 100ms. The
filters had a stop-band attenuation of 90 dB and pass-band ripple of 0.003 dB. The
environment-monitoring microphones incorporated in the headset were verified using
an input signal of 1 kHz at 94 dB SPL to show a maximum variation of 3.6 dB across
microphones. Calibration of the microphones was based on an effective attenuation
level which was determined using expert subjects with normal hearing sensitivity.
Pure tones were presented at irregular intervals to the test subjects at an intensity
level 10 dB higher than the threshold of the test ear for frequencies in each octave
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band as well as the inter-octave frequencies (125 to 8000 Hz). The insert earphones
were placed in the ear canals with the 12mm foam tip completely fitted into the canal
and covered by the circumaural cups of the KUDUwave audiometer. Continuous
narrowband noise was presented through free-field speakers situated at 45 degrees
1 meter in front of the subject. The intensity of the noise was slowly increased until
the pure tones could not be detected. The average of these levels at each frequency
and per ear was used as the effective attenuation level for each frequency.
A response button was connected to the KUDUwave device to record patient
responses to stimuli and to document response times. The audiometer was
calibrated prior to commencement of the study using an 824 Type 1 sound level
meter (Larson Davis, Provo, Utah) with a G.R.A.S. (Holte, Denmark) IEC 711 coupler
for insert earphones and an AMC493 Artificial Mastoid on an AEC101 coupler
(Larson Davis) with 2559 ½ inch microphone for the Radioear B-71 bone oscillator.
Insert earphones were calibrated in accordance with ISO 389-2 and the bone
oscillator according to ISO 389-3. Testing in the audiometric booth was conducted in
a single-walled audiometric booth adhering to ambient noise levels specified by ANSI
(ANSI S3.1-1999(R2008)) for evaluating hearing down to 0 dB HL from 250 to 8000
Hz.
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Figure 3.1 KUDUwave audiometer showing insert earphones, circumaural
earcups housing audiometers and forehead bone conductor mounted centrally
on headband
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Figure 3.2 Screenshot of KUDUwave software demonstrating real-time
monitoring of ambient noise levels while establishing thresholds
3.3.3 Procedures
Subjects were tested twice with diagnostic air (250, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000,
6000, 8000 Hz) and bone-conduction (250, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 Hz) puretone audiometry by the same experienced audiologist using the same audiometer.
Testing sequence was held constant, intentionally confining procedure variability for
the best comparison between the two test environments. In all cases, the initial test
was conducted in a natural environment provided by the retirement home facility, and
constituted a quiet furnished room. Conducting the initial test in the natural
environment limited travelling costs and inconvenience in the event that a respondent
proved not to meet the selection criteria. The second evaluation was conducted with
the subject in a certified audiometric booth at an audiology clinic. Initial test results
were not visible to the audiologist during the second evaluation, nor were they
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accessed prior to the test in the booth. The average time interval between tests was
6.4 (± 6.2 SD) days with the longest period being 42 days. An otoscopic examination
and tympanometry were conducted prior to each evaluation to confirm the absence
of any transient middle ear influences before inclusion in the study.
Air-conduction pure tones were delivered via deeply inserted insert foam tips covered
by the circumaural earcups of the audiometer for additional attenuation (insert
earphone and circumaural earcup attenuation). In the small number of cases where
the 12mm foam tips could not be fully inserted, such as in the presence of stenosis,
they were placed as deeply as possible into the ear canals. Berger et al, (2003)
reported average attenuation for deeply inserted insert foam plugs covered by
circumaural earphones. This is similar to the current study’s double attenuation of 57,
62, 49, 40, 50 and 50 dB for 250, 500, 1000, 2000, 4000 and 8000 Hz, respectively.
These attenuation values exceed those of typical transportable sound-treated booths
(Franks, 2001). Forehead placement bone-conduction audiometry was conducted
with both ears occluded by the deep insertion of the earphones. Placement of the
insert earphones was deep with the foam tip inserted completely into the canal to
improve the attenuation of ambient noise (Berger & Killion, 1989; Berger, 1983;
Berger, Kieper & Gauger, 2003) and to minimize the occlusion effect. Placing insert
earphones down to the bony part of the ear canal reduces the occlusion effect
allowing for bone-conduction evaluation with occluded ears (Dean & Martin, 2000;
Stenfelt & Goode, 2005; Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011). Deep insertion required
removal of cerumen by the audiologist in 24.5% of the subjects prior to their inclusion
in this study.
Verbal instructions were provided in either English or Afrikaans to ensure that the
participant demonstrated an understanding of the test procedures. Subject responses
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with a patient response button allowed for recording reaction times for true positive
responses within 1.5 seconds after stimulus presentation. Thresholds were
measured using a routine modified 10 dB descending and 5 dB ascending method
(modified Hughson-Westlake method) commencing at 1000 Hz at 40 dB HL in the left
ear and proceeding to the lower frequencies before recording thresholds at high
frequencies. In the absence of a response at 40 dB HL, the intensity was increased
in steps of 10 dB until a response was noted from where the bracketing method
recommenced. Masking of 30 dB above the air-conduction threshold of the non-test
ear commenced for air-conduction audiometry when the thresholds in test and nontest ears differed by 75 dB or more at frequencies of 1000 Hz and less and 50 dB or
more at frequencies above 1000 Hz. A continuous contralateral effective masking
level of 20 dB above the air-conduction threshold of the non-test ear was used for the
forehead bone-conduction audiometry (ASHA, 2005).
Average noise levels recorded (over a 30 minute period) with a Type 1 sound level
meter in two of the retirement homes showed average noise levels of 46.5 and 53.6
dBA as opposed to 21.2 dBA in the sound-booth environment. The KUDUwave
software actively monitored ambient noise levels across octave bands throughout the
test procedures in both test environments. Whenever the noise exceeded the
maximum ambient noise level allowed for establishing a threshold as indicated by the
effective attenuation level in the KUDUwave software, the audiologist waited for the
transient noise to abate or continued testing at other frequencies. Thresholds were
evaluated down to a minimum of 0 dB HL.
3.3.4 Analysis
The threshold data for air-conduction and bone-conduction testing in the two
environments were analysed descriptively with average differences and absolute
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average differences presented with respective distributions. Correspondence of
thresholds between the natural and clinical environment was described in
percentages and with 95% Confidence Intervals. A Paired Samples T-test with the
significance level at 1% was used to determine whether hearing thresholds differed
significantly between natural and clinical environments.
3.4 RESULTS
Average air-conduction threshold differences between the natural environment and
audiometric booth testing (Table 3.1) were between -0.6 and 1.1 dB with standard
deviations of between 3.3 and 5.9 dB across frequencies and left and right ears.
Average bone-conduction threshold differences between the natural environment and
audiometric booth testing (Table 3.2) were between -0.6 and 1.3 dB with standard
deviations of between 4.0 and 7.5 dB across frequencies and left and right ears.
Differences in the natural and audiometric booth environments across ears and
frequencies were within ± 5 dB for 95% of air-conduction thresholds (n=2259) and
86%
of
bone-conduction
thresholds
(n=1669).
Bone-conduction
thresholds
corresponded within 0 to 10 dB in 97% of cases. Approximately half of the airconduction (53%) and bone- conduction (51%) thresholds showed no change
between test environments.
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Table 3.1 Difference in air conduction thresholds recorded in the natural and
audiometric booth environment (Thresholds recorded in the booth subtracted
from those recorded in the natural environment)
Freq (Hz)
250
500
1000
2000
3000
4000
6000
8000
Left AC Difference (Natural & Booth)
n
143
143
143
143
143
143
139
126
Average
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.1
-0.6
-0.4
0.0
1.1
SD
5.4
4.3
3.6
3.5
3.3
3.4
3.6
4.6
95% CI
-0.8;0.9
-0.5;0.9
-0.3;0.9
-0.4;0.7
-1.2;0.1
-1.0;0.1
-0.7;0.5
0.3;1.9
±5dB %
87
92
97
98
99
97
97
94
±10dB %
97
99
100
100
100
100
100
98
Right AC Difference (Natural & Booth)
n
145
145
145
144
143
143
140
131
Average
-0.3
0.1
-0.3
0.1
-0.3
-0.3
-0.2
0.6
SD
5.9
3.9
3.6
4.0
3.9
3.5
3.9
4.7
95% CI
-1.3;0.6
-0.6;0.7
-0.9;0.3
-0.6;0.8
-1.0;0.3
-0.8;0.3
-0.8;0.5
-0.2;1.5
±5dB %
86
96
97
96
95
99
97
88
±10dB %
96
100
99
99
100
100
99
100
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Table 3.2 Difference in bone conduction thresholds recorded in the natural and
audiometric booth environment (Thresholds recorded in the booth subtracted
from those recorded in the natural environment)
Freq (Hz)
250
500
1000
2000
3000
4000
Left BC Difference (Natural & Booth)
n
140
139
142
141
135
132
Average
0.7
0.8
0.1
0.6
-0.6
-0.3
SD
5.9
5.7
7.5
4.1
4.0
4.4
95% CI
-0.3;1.7
-0.2;1.7
-1.2;1.3
-0.1;1.2
-1.3;0.1
-1.1;0.5
±5dB %
86
85
73
93
93
92
±10dB %
94
97
90
99
100
99
Right BC Difference (Natural & Booth)
n
142
141
143
142
136
136
Average
-0.2
1.3
0.4
0.2
-0.1
-0.3
SD
6.3
6.0
6.2
4.1
4.7
5.1
95% CI
-1.2;0.9
0.3;2.3
-0.6;1.4
-0.5;0.9
-0.9;0.7
-1.2;0.5
±5dB %
86
77
78
94
91
88
±10dB %
94
96
95
99
99
99
Normal hearing thresholds (≤25 dBHL) and elevated thresholds (>25 dBHL) as
shown in Table 3.3, demonstrated similar average threshold differences and
standard deviations. The average absolute difference for air-conduction thresholds
was 2.7 dB (± 3.2 SD) and 2.7 dB (± 3.1 SD) for normal (≤25 dBHL) compared to
elevated (>25 dBHL) threshold comparisons respectively. Air-conduction thresholds
in the natural and audiometric booth corresponded within 5 dB or less of each other
in 94.1% of cases for normal hearing thresholds (≤25 dBHL) compared to 94.9% for
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elevated thresholds (>25 dBHL). The average absolute difference for boneconduction thresholds was 3.4 dB (± 4.2 SD) and 3.4 dB (± 4.3 SD) for normal (≤25
dBHL) compared to elevated (>25 dBHL) threshold comparisons respectively. Boneconduction
thresholds
in
the
natural
environment
and
audiometric
booth
corresponded within 10 dB or less of each other in 96.7% of cases for normal hearing
thresholds (≤25 dBHL) compared to 96.9% for elevated thresholds (>25 dBHL).
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Table 3.3 Difference in air and bone conduction thresholds ≤25 dB and >25 dB
recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment (Thresholds
recorded in the booth subtracted from those recorded in the natural
environment)
Freq (Hz)
250
500
1000
2000
3000
4000
6000
8000
AC Thresholds ≤ 25 dB difference (Natural & Booth)
n
209
208
177
133
96
72
45
15
Average
0.3
0.5
0.0
0.3
-0.1
-0.5
0.4
3.0
SD
5.3
4.0
3.6
3.7
3.4
3.9
3.2
4.1
±5dB %
88
94
95
97
99
96
100
87
AC Thresholds > 25 dB difference (Natural & Booth)
n
79
80
111
154
190
214
234
242
Average
-1.2
-0.8
0.0
-0.1
-0.7
-0.3
-0.3
0.7
SD
6.1
4.3
3.5
3.8
3.7
3.3
3.8
4.7
±5dB %
84
93
98
97
96
99
97
91
BC Thresholds ≤ 25 dB difference (Natural & Booth)
n
273
243
212
146
111
100
Average
0.5
1.4
1.2
0.7
-0.3
-0.2
SD
5.7
5.9
6.4
3.8
4.3
4.3
±5dB %
86
79
75
95
95
91
BC Thresholds > 25 dB difference (Natural & Booth)
n
9
37
73
137
160
168
Average
-6.7
-1.8
-2.6
0.0
-0.4
-0.4
SD
13.2
4.3
7.6
4.4
4.5
5.1
±5dB %
78
92
74
92
91
89
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The average absolute difference between thresholds recorded in the natural and
audiometric booth environments for air conduction (Figure 3.3) was 2.7 ± 3.1 dB and
for bone conduction (Figure 3.4) was 3.4 ± 4.3 dB, across all frequencies. The
average absolute differences (Table 3.4) in air-conduction thresholds varied between
2.0 and 3.6 dB across frequencies with standard deviations between 2.6 and 4.0 dB.
Bone-conduction average absolute differences varied between 2.6 and 5.2 with
standard deviations between 3.2 and 5.3.
Absolute difference (dB)
10
9
AC-Left
8
AC-Right
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
0.25
0.5
1
2
3
Frequency (kHz)
4
6
8
Figure 3.3 Average absolute difference between air conduction thresholds
recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment (error bars = 1 SD)
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Absolute difference (dB)
10
9
BC-Left
8
BC-Right
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
0.25
0.5
1
2
Frequency (kHz)
3
4
Figure 3.4 Average absolute difference between bone conduction thresholds
recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment (error bars = 1 SD)
Table 3.4 Absolute difference in air and bone conduction dB thresholds
recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment (Left & Right ears
combined)
Freq (Hz)
250
500
1000
2000
3000
4000
6000
8000
AC Threshold Correlation (Natural & Booth)
Ave (Abs)
3.6
2.7
2.2
2.2
2.1
2.0
2.3
3.2
SD
4.0
3.3
2.9
2.7
2.6
2.8
2.8
3.4
n
294
294
294
293
292
292
284
262
BC Threshold Correlation (Natural & Booth)
Ave (Abs)
2.8
3.8
5.2
2.6
2.7
2.9
SD
5.3
4.3
5.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
n
288
286
291
289
276
273
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Comparison of air- and bone-conduction thresholds obtained in the natural and
audiometric booth environments revealed no statistically significant differences
(Paired Samples T-test; p>0.01) except at 8000 Hz in the left ear for air conduction
(p=0.006). That one exception was not clinically significant. Differences were within 0
to 5 dB of each other for 94% of thresholds. Table 3.5 shows threshold correlation
coefficients between 0.92 and 0.99 for air conduction and 0.63 and 0.97 for bone
conduction in the natural and audiometric booth test environments.
The number of subject responses to pure-tone presentations and the average
reaction time and standard deviation of these were also compared between the
natural and audiometric booth environments and showed no significant difference
(Paired Samples T-test; p>0.01).
Table 3.5 Pearson correlation coefficients for air and bone conduction
thresholds recorded in the natural and audiometric booth environment
Freq (Hz)
250
500
1000
2000
3000
4000
6000
8000
AC Threshold Correlation (Natural & Booth)
Left
.93
.96
.97
.98
.99
.99
.98
.97
Right
.92
.97
.98
.98
.98
.98
.98
.96
BC Threshold Correlation (Natural & Booth)
Left
.73
.90
.89
.97
.97
.97
Right
.63
.87
.92
.97
.96
.96
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3.5 DISCUSSION
Ambient noise may reduce the specificity of audiometric testing (Bromwich et al,
2008). In the absence of an audiometric booth, the management and the monitoring
of background noise are essential for accurate evaluation of hearing thresholds
(Swanepoel, Clark et al, 2010; Swanepoel, Olusanya & Mars, 2010). We evaluated
the performance of an audiometer employing passive attenuation using insert
earphones covered by circumaural earcups coupled with real-time monitoring of
environmental noise for air-conduction and bone-conduction threshold measurement
in a natural environment. Double transducer attenuation using insert foam plugs and
circumaural earcups produces a significant increase in ambient noise attenuation that
may actually exceed typical attenuation for transportable sound booths (Berger,
Kieper & Gauger, 2003; Franks, 2001). Results of the current study confirmed
statistically and clinically equivalent hearing thresholds as measured in a natural
environment versus a sound-treated booth.
Air-conduction thresholds measured in the natural and standard audiometric booth
corresponded within typical 5dB or less test-retest limits for thresholds measured in a
sound booth (Stuart et al, 1991; Smith-Olinde et al, 2006; Margolis, Glasberg, Creeke
& Moore 2010; Swanepoel, Mngemane et al, 2010; Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011).
Average absolute air-conduction threshold differences for the current study (2.7 ± 3.1
dB) were within previously reported average test-retest absolute difference values
(3.6 ± 3.9 dB and 3.5 ± 3.8 dB) for the same audiometer (Swanepoel, Mngemane et
al, 2010; Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011).
In the current study, 95% of threshold comparisons were within 5 dB or better
compared to 88% for test-retest measures in a sound booth environment previously
reported for this audiometer (Swanepoel, Mngemane et al, 2010). The slightly better
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correspondence between air-conduction thresholds recorded in the natural and
sound booth environments compared with the test-retest differences reported by
Swanepoel, Mngemane et al (2010) may partly be attributed to the omission of 125
Hz as a test frequency in the current study. This low test frequency showed a larger
test-retest discrepancy than the other frequencies in the Swanepoel, Mngemane et al
(2010) study. Overall the correlation between air-conduction thresholds recorded in a
sound booth environment and a natural environment was very high (>.92) across all
frequencies.
The average absolute difference in bone-conduction thresholds recorded in the
natural and audiometric booth (3.4 ± 4.3 dB) was within previously reported boneconduction test-retest differences (Laukli & Fjermedal, 1990; Margolis et al, 2010;
Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011). The average absolute test-retest variability for this same
audiometer previously reported in a small group of 10 normal-hearing subjects was
7.1 ± 6.4 dB. Laukli and Fjermedal (1990) reported bone-conduction test-retest
standard deviation variability between 3.2 and 4.8 dB across 250 to 4000 Hz in a
small sample of normal-hearing adults. Similarly, Margolis et al (2010) reported an
average absolute test-retest difference for bone-conduction thresholds of 4.1 ± 3.8
dB across frequencies. Overall, 97% of bone-conduction thresholds corresponded
within 10dB between the two environments, which is within accepted boneconduction test-retest variability (Roeser & Clark, 2007). Bone-conduction test-retest
thresholds are more susceptible to variability compared with air-conduction
thresholds owing to several factors including differences in static force applied,
location of the bone vibrator, functional state of the middle ear, position of the lower
jaw, and distortion of bone vibrators at lower frequencies (Stenfelt & Goode, 2005;
Stuart et al, 1991).
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Owing to the advancing age of the population assessed, hearing loss greater than 25
dB (average of 500, 1000, 2000 and 4000 Hz) was present in 59% of ears. Since
ambient noise would be more likely to affect threshold determination in the normal
ranges (0 – 25 dB HL) the validity of thresholds in the natural and sound booth
environments was compared for normal and abnormal hearing categories (Table
3.3). Similar threshold correspondence and absolute threshold differences were
however obtained from the two environments for air- and bone-conduction testing.
Thresholds for air conduction corresponded within 5 dB in 94.1% compared with
94.9% for normal and elevated hearing thresholds respectively. For bone-conduction
thresholds, correspondence was within 10 dB in 96.7% compared with 96.9% for
normal and elevated hearing thresholds respectively.
This study provides evidence that valid diagnostic air-conduction and boneconduction pure-tone hearing thresholds can be recorded using a mobile audiometer
without a sound booth or sound-treated room. Using insert earphone and circumaural
earcup attenuation, with real-time monitoring of noise, provides passive control of
environmental noise and offers on-going active evaluation of transient extraneous
interference. Our data support the possibility of conducting valid diagnostic pure-tone
audiometry outside a regular clinic setup. Active noise monitoring provides a
measure of quality control. Furthermore, the system can be set to monitor noise
levels according to the average attenuation provided by the test setup in a typical
group of subjects as opposed to double attenuation values previously reported
(Berger, Kieper & Gauger, 2003). By employing these attenuation levels, the
software can be programmed to monitor ambient noise levels across octave or interoctave levels, according to standards for audiometric test environments (e.g. ANSI
S3.1-1999(R2008)). This allows the clinician to monitor the noise that may be
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influencing threshold testing at specific frequencies and intensities. For valid boneconduction testing outside an audiometric booth, occlusion of the non-test ear is
required. Deeply inserted insert earphones can minimize the occlusion effect at low
frequencies (250 – 1000 Hz) to a clinically insignificant level (Stenfelt & Goode,
2005). Achieving deep insertion of the insert earphone may however be challenging
and in the present study 24.5% of subjects required removal of cerumen by the
clinician before testing.
3.6 CONCLUSION
Environmental noise has historically been controlled during diagnostic audiometry by
using audiometric booths that are certified annually. Advances in technology may
however
offer
alternate
ways
of
performing
diagnostic
audiometry
while
simultaneously extending testing sites beyond the confines of the conventional
audiometric booth setting. The current study demonstrated that valid diagnostic airconduction and bone-conduction audiometry can be conducted on elderly patients at
their retirement facilities without the use of a sound booth or sound-treated room
using insert earphones covered by circumaural earcups with integrated active
monitoring of ambient noise levels. Continual monitoring of ambient noise during
testing provides an effective measure of quality control. The possibility of performing
diagnostic audiometry with patients unable to attend clinics for any number of
reasons extends access to valid evaluations outside of a conventional clinic. Of
greater significance and with further-reaching implications, this type of technology
permits the delivery of diagnostic audiometry services to low- and middle-income
countries where sound booths are a scarce luxury and diagnostic testing is
impossible as a result (Swanepoel, Clark et al, 2010; Swanepoel, Olusanya & Mars,
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2010). With more than 80% of people with hearing loss globally residing in
developing countries, these new advances in technology may lead to a broadening of
access to diagnostic hearing health care services in these communities (WHO, 2006;
Swanepoel, Clark et al, 2010; Swanepoel, Olusanya & Mars, 2010). Access to
audiometry is a global concern (Margolis & Morgan 2008; Swanepoel, Clark et al,
2010, Swanepoel & Hall, 2010) for which the continued advances in technology must
be harnessed to ensure that people with hearing loss everywhere have access to
services.
3.7 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
None
3.8 DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The authors report no conflicts of interest and state that they alone are responsible
for the content and writing of this article. Data from this study were presented at the
XXXl World Congress of Audiology on May 3, 2012 in Moscow and at the Coalition
for Global Hearing Health Conference on May 30, 2012 in Pretoria, South Africa.
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4. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
Initial studies have demonstrated the consistency of air conduction thresholds
measured with PC-based audiometry and conventional audiometry in adults with
normal hearing (Choi, Lee, Park, Oh & Park, 2007; Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011).
These data were recorded from tests done in an audiometric test booth that
attenuated environmental noise to levels that complied with the ANSI standard (ANSI
S3.1-1999(R2008)) for maximum ambient noise levels required for testing to 0 dB
Hearing Threshold Level (Choi et al., 2007; Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011). Obstacles to
the use of audiometric test booths, particularly in developing countries, include their
limited availability, when available their stationary nature that usually confines them
to large cities and the requisite annual compliance check or calibration after relocation. These add to the financial burden of servicing rural communities and may
limit service delivery in such areas (Swanepoel et al., 2010b; Swanepoel, Olusanya &
Mars, 2010a).
Telemedicine applications in audiometry have demonstrated potential to provide
access to underserved and remote regions (Swanepoel, 2010; Nemes, 2010). In the
absence of a suitable audiometric booth, adequate management and monitoring of
background noise becomes essential for accurate evaluation of hearing thresholds
(Swanepoel et al., 2010b; Swanepoel et al., 2010a). Supra-aural earphones have
demonstrated limited attenuation properties particularly in the lower frequencies
(Frank, Greer & Magistro, 1997; Berger & Killion, 1989). Using supra-aural
earphones together with passive noise-reducing ear enclosures can offer additional
attenuation. These plastic domed enclosures such as the Audiocup, Auraldome 11,
AudioMate, and Madsen ME 70, fit over and around the ear much like an earmuff
and can provide a further 7-10 dB attenuation as in the case of the ME 70 (Poulsen,
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1988). However the attenuation achieved by these enclosures remains insufficient for
diagnostic testing down to an audiometric zero, particularly in the lower frequency
range (Frank et al., 1997).
Insert earphones have been recommended as a more effective alternative to
reducing ambient noise levels for compliant testing, realising 30 to 40 dB of
attenuation of ambient noise which is sufficient for testing down to 0 dB across the
speech frequency range (Frank et al., 1997; Berger & Killion, 1989; Wright & Frank,
1992). A prerequisite for this is that these earphones be inserted deeply into the ear
canal. The level of attenuation is a function of the insertion depth in the ear canal
whereas the hearing thresholds are not (Berger & Killion, 1989; Clark & Roeser,
1988). By covering the insert earphones with circumaural earcups a further increase
in attenuation can be provided (Berger, 1983; Berger, Kieper & Gauger, 2003).
Double transducer attenuation using deeply inserted foam plugs and circumaural
earcups produces a significant increase in ambient noise attenuation that may
actually exceed typical attenuation for transportable sound booths (Berger et al.,
2003). Active noise reduction technology used in conjunction with insert earphones
and circumaural earcups has been demonstrated to provide accurate hearing
threshold measurement in levels of up to 30 dB ambient noise between 250 and
4000 Hz (Bromwich et al., 2008). However, exceeding this level of ambient noise can
result in threshold shifts (Bromwich et al., 2008) effectively nullifying the double
attenuation of insert earphones used with circumaural earcups. Consequently the
continual monitoring of ambient noise levels becomes requisite to ensure that
diagnostic thresholds are established solely when ambient environmental noise
levels are compliant.
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A mobile computer-based audiometer with real-time monitoring of ambient noise
levels and incorporating telehealth applications has recently been validated in an
audiometric test booth setting by Swanepoel and Biagio (2011). In the present study
the performance of this audiometer that additionally employs passive attenuation
using insert earphones covered by circumaural earcups was evaluated for validity of
air and bone conduction threshold measurement in a natural environment.
4.1 Discussion of results
4.1.1 Ambient noise levels
Measurements of noise levels were recorded over a 30 minute period with a Type 1
Sound level meter in two of the retirement homes (natural environment) and in the
acoustic test booth. Average noise levels of 46.5 and 53.6 dBA were measured in the
natural environments compared to 21.2 dBA in the sound-booth environment where
ambient noise levels did not exceed the permissible maximal noise levels specified
by ANSI (ANSI S3.1- 1999(R2008); Appendix H) for testing down to 0dB. The
average noise levels measured in the natural environments unsurprisingly exceeded
these standards. The software in the audiometric equiment actively monitored
ambient noise levels across octave bands and displayed these measurements in
real-time throughout the test procedures in both test environments (Figure 2.2).
Whenever the noise exceeded the maximum ambient noise level allowed for
establishing a threshold, as indicated by the effective attenuation level in the
software, the audiologist waited for the transient noise to abate or continued testing
at other frequencies. Thresholds were evaluated down to a minimum of 0 dB HL.
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4.1.2 Hearing threshold comparisons
All participants demonstrated a clear understanding of the instructions as given prior
to testing. In total 2259 air conduction and 1669 bone conduction threshold data were
collected for comparative analysis.
Air conduction thresholds
Of the 2259 air conduction thresholds measured in the natural and standard
audiometric booth, 95% corresponded within 5 dB, with 53% of thresholds exhibiting
no change. This falls within typical test-retest limits for thresholds measured in an
audiometric test booth (Stuart, Stenstrom, Tompkins & Vandenhoff, 1991; SmithOlinde, Nicholson, Chivers, Highley & Williams, 2006; Margolis et al., 2010;
Swanepoel, Mngemane, Molemong, Mkwanazi & Tutshini, 2010c; Swanepoel &
Biagio, 2011) and compares well with test-retest measures of 88% previously
reported by Swanepoel et al. (2010c) for the same audiometer. The finding of a
slightly lower correspondence by Swanepoel et al. (2010c) may be ascribed in part to
their inclusion of the test frequency 125 Hz, where a larger test-retest inconsistency
was recorded when compared to the other frequencies (Swanepoel et al., 2010c).
The average absolute air conduction threshold difference of 2.7 (± 3.1) dB for the
present study accords with formerly reported average test-retest absolute differences
of 3.6 (± 3.9) dB and 3.5 (± 3.8) dB for the same audiometer (Swanepoel et al.,
2010c; Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011) establishing validity. Comparison of air
conduction thresholds recorded in the natural and audiometric booth settings showed
no statistically significant differences illustrated by a paired samples t-test (p ˃ 0.01)
with the exception of 8000 Hz in the left ear where p = 0.006. This one exception did
not however translate to a clinically significant difference. The overall high correlation
coefficients of between 0.92 and 0.99 across all frequencies for thresholds recorded
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in the natural and audiometric sound booth environment reiterate the evidence of
reliability and accuracy of air conduction threshold testing using this type of
technology.
Bone conduction threshold results
For the 1669 bone conduction thresholds measured in the natural and audiometric
booth environments, across ears and frequencies, thresholds differed within ± 5 dB in
86% and within 10 dB in 97% of cases which corresponds well with clinically
accepted bone conduction test-retest parameters (Roeser & Clark, 2007). Similarly
the average bone conduction threshold differences of – 0.6 to 1.3 dB (4.0 – 7.5 dB),
and average absolute threshold difference of 3.4 (± 4.3) dB, between the natural and
audiometric booth testing environments, were within formerly reported bone
conduction test-retest differences (Laukli & Fjermedal, 1990; Margolis et al., 2010;
Swanepoel & Biagio, 2011). In addition these findings compare favourably with the
average absolute test-retest variability of 7.1 (± 6.4) dB measured for this same
audiometer in a small group of 10 normal hearing subjects by Swanepoel and Biagio
(2011). For the frequencies 500 to 4000 Hz the correlation coefficient for bone
conduction thresholds measured in a natural environment compared to those
recorded in an audiometric test room was high (˃ 0.87).
At 250 Hz, however,
correlation was between 0.63 and 0.73. This low frequency showed the largest testretest variance of all the frequencies. This may be attributed to the fact that bone
conduction test-retest thresholds are more susceptible to variability compared to air
conduction thresholds owing to several factors including differences in static force
applied by the bone oscillator to the forehead, location of the bone vibrator, functional
state of the middle ear, position of the lower jaw, and distortion of bone vibrators at
lower frequencies (Stenfelt & Goode, 2005).
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4.2 Clinical implications and recommendations
The identification and diagnosis of hearing loss is the essential initial component to
the successful management of hearing loss and the subsequent improvement in
quality of life that is attainable with appropriate intervention. This study demonstrates
that valid air and bone conduction audiometry can be performed on elderly patients in
their own environment outside of an audiometric booth. The establishment of the
accuracy and reliability of thresholds recorded with this type of equipment suggests
that the use of double attenuation coupled with real-time monitoring of ambient noise
as a strategy for managing environmental noise may be a valid option for accurately
assessing hearing thresholds. Validation of this novel technology advances an
alternate approach to providing effective mobile diagnostic audiometric services to
population groups that have not had access to audiology services in the past. These
groups include rural communities, those without transport facilities and those unable
to be transported. The portability of this type of system which can be powered by a
battery in the absence of electricity may extend hearing health care services to
underserved communities in all parts of South Africa and other developing countries.
Telehealth applications
Where electricity and access to the internet are available the telehealth application of
this type of technology may make diagnostic air and bone conduction pure tone teleaudiology possible. This could have highly significant and widespread implications for
low and middle income countries where sound booths and human resources are
insufficient to meet the needs of communities. More than 80% of people with hearing
loss reside in developing countries (WHO, 2006; Swanepoel et al., 2010b;
Swanepoel et al., 2010a). The benefit of providing audiometric services without
expenditure on an audiometric test booth, its transportation or maintenance, in
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combination with tele-audiology that effectively negates patients’ transport needs and
costs may make a valuable contribution to the extension of cost effective diagnostic
hearing healthcare service delivery in these communities. Augmenting tele-audiology
with recently validated automated audiometric paradigms for diagnostic hearing
testing (Margolis et al., 2010; Swanepoel et al., 2010c; Swanepoel & Hall, 2010)
would not only exploit the mobility of this technology without an audiometric booth but
would furthermore facilitate testing where hearing healthcare professionals are not
available. Merging these applications may significantly broaden access to
audiometric healthcare assistance to underserved communities.
Recommendations
Insert earphones require deep insertion to offer the most effective attenuation of
environmental noise (Frank et al., 1997; Berger & Killion, 1989; Clark & Roeser,
1988) and for occlusion of the non-test ear when performing bone conduction testing
outside of an audiometric test booth (Berger, 1983; Stenfelt & Goode, 2005).
Margolis and Moore (2011) reported the smallest occurrence of the occlusion effect
using circumaural earphones followed by fully inserted insert earphones when
establishing bone conduction thresholds with both ears occluded. Stenfelt and
Reinfeldt (2007) observed a 10 dB effect at frequencies below 1000 Hz with deeply
inserted insert earphones. It is suggested that one way of addressing the limitation of
this technique may be to use a correction factor for occlusion effects at the lower
frequencies.
Deep insertion of the insert earphone to a depth of 12mm proved to be challenging in
the present study as 24.5% of subjects required removal of cerumen before the
evaluation could proceed. Training in cerumen management would be to the
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advantage of the audiologist. Alternate arrangements may also be sought prior to
audiometric evaluations.
The findings of this research project demonstrating a novel approach to diagnostic
audiometry, may be regarded by Health Departments and professionals responsible
for the hearing welfare of populations as presenting an opportunity to broaden
diagnostic hearing health care service delivery to citizens in all areas of the country.
Hearing healthcare that takes advantage of the tele-audiology applications of this
type of technology might however require the assistance of suitably qualified
personnel for otoscopy, the insertion of insert earphones, circumaural earcup
placement and the giving of appropriate instructions for the realisation of online
diagnostic audiometric service delivery.
The scarcity of human resources contributes to the challenges of providing a credible
hearing healthcare service in South Africa and other developing countries
(Swanepoel, Olusanya & Mars, 2010a). The South African National Department of
Health has recognised this fact and has recently requested that the training of midlevel workers in the profession be considered by the Professional Board for Speech,
Language and Hearing Professions (Singh, 2012). Mid-level workers may contribute
to the expansion of hearing healthcare services in the country. It is suggested that in
its deliberations the Professional Board consider the inclusion of tele-audiology
support in the mid-level workers’ scope of practice. Alternately, or in addition, primary
healthcare workers may be trained to provide the appropriate support to
professionals in the implementation of tele-audiology.
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4.3 Critical evaluation and contribution to the field of audiology
Advancing and clarifying of arguments, reasons and evidence for reaching certain
conclusions requires appraisal to demonstrate that data does logically support
research findings (Mouton, 2008). Subsequently this project is critically evaluated in
terms of its strengths and limitations to complement the perspectives presented by
the conclusions.
Strengths of the study
This was the first study to establish the validity of dianostic air and bone conduction
threshold measurement outside of a conventional test booth, using a novel approach,
and has immediate relevance and value (Mouton, 2008) for expanding hearing
healthcare services.
The audiometer used in this research project was validated by Swanepoel and Biagio
(2011) using 30 subjects and compared diagnostic results to a standard type 1
audiometer. In another study 38 subjects were recruited by Swanepoel et al. (2010c)
to establish the accuracy of the automated hearing assessment feature of this
equipment. The present study employed a large sample of 147 subjects affirming and
lending credence to its findings of validity of threshold determination outside of an
audiometric booth with this technology.
A third strength of this study is the ecological validity of the research which was
increased by collecting data at four different sites with varying natural environmental
parameters, representative of typical test environments in retirement facilities, where
this type of technology may be utilised.
Although the majority of ears (n=173) had hearing loss of ˃25 dB there was a
sufficiently large contingent of ears with normal pure tone averages of ≤25 dB
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(n=121) for establishing the validity of this type of technology used outside of an
audiometric booth environment for ears without hearing loss. This is relevant as
ambient noise would be most likely to affect threshold determination in the normal
ranges of 0-25 dB HL and implies that this technology may be appropriate for use as
a diagnostic tool in population groups where it is anticipated that the majority of the
population group have normal hearing thresholds.
A further strength of this project is that test protocol variables were limited by
employing one audiologist for all the data collection. On-site cerumen management
assisted with consistent deep placement of insert earphones for both tests, confining
the influence that varying depths of insertion may have had on the occlusion effect
and ultimately threshold measurements.
For the protection of collected data, precautionary measures in the programme
software prohibited any amendments of threshold data once documented. Coupled
with this the audiologist was automatically blinded to prior audiometric results.
Although first test results could voluntarily be accessed, they never were until both
audiograms had been determined and audiometric findings were discussed with the
participant.
Finally the short average time interval of 6.4 days between the two tests reduced the
likelihood of transient conductive components that may have excluded the data from
a participating subject, while simultaneously ensuring that possible adaptation from
one test to the next did not require consideration.
Limitations of the study
The salient limitation of this research project is the non-randomisation of test
sequence between the two environments where threshold data was collected. Test
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sequence was held constant with the initial test always being performed in the natural
environment at a retirement facility. This was done to accommodate the older adult
respondents who may not have met the selection criteria. In this way traveling costs
and the inconvenience of having to leave their environment were considered. The
results of the study would, however, have been strengthened had test sequence
been randomised to negate any test-retest effect that may have been present when
thresholds were re-assessed.
Secondly, the selection criteria required that subjects be over the age of 65 years of
age partly to facilitate availability for retest appointments within a short space of time.
In 41% of the subjects pure tone thresholds were ≤ 25 dB. Although no significant
difference was found in a comparison of the validity of thresholds in the natural and
sound booth environments for normal and abnormal hearing categories, a larger
contingent of normal hearing subjects would have provided further credence to the
use of this type of technology outside of an audiometric booth. The second
motivation for recruiting older adults as subjects for this study anticipated their
tolerance of the double attenuation of insert and circumaural earcups that also
housed the audiometer hardware. Including younger subjects such as school entrylevel learners in this project may have presented challenges for the researcher.
However, the validation of this type of technology for this population group would
have significantly added to the value of the present findings. Similar validated
findings for children may lead to the extension of valuable diagnostic services to
learners.
Thirdly, average noise levels were recorded post facto in two of the four natural test
environments, each for a period of 30 minutes. Measurement and recording of
ambient noise levels during all threshold determination would have augmented the
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findings of this study demonstrating the efficacy of the double attenuation system and
the real-time monitoring of ambient noise levels as a means of environmental noise
management in this type of technology.
4.4 Future research
This research study demonstrated that valid diagnostic air and bone conduction
audiometry can be performed on an older adult community outside an audiometric
booth environment using passive double transducer attenuation with real-time
monitoring of ambient noise. The use of this technology which may be used without a
conventional test booth under specific conditions does nonetheless raise additional
questions requiring further research.
Other population groups, in particular young children where the impact of hearing
loss on the development of verbal communication function is mild to profound
(Yoshinaga-Itano et al., 1998), may benefit from this technology. Anticipated
challenges to the testing of children with a double transducer attenuation system may
include the necessity of cerumen management prior to testing and the tolerance of
deep insertion of the insert earphones (Berger et al., 2003) in combination with the
size and the 480g weight of the circumaural earcups, that house the audiometers, on
a child’s head. Despite these considerations validating diagnostic air and bone
conduction on this population group would serve to clarify its applicability to children.
Should a study demonstrate validity of this type of technology for use with children in
a typical school environment, it may result in the valuable extension of diagnostic
services to this population group. A diagnostic service in a school setting may
address some of the challenges experienced with present screening programmes
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such as over-referrals, that may arise from ineffectual management of ambient noise,
the accessibility and availability of diagnostic facilities for follow-up in addition to the
likelihood of reasonable compliance with referrals subsequent to the screening
(Gravel et al., 2009). Although diagnostic services without an audiometric booth may
be made available to children in schools, follow-up services for management of
identified hearing loss would still be required. Much validation research would be
needed before such services may be made available to children in their school
environment. Notwithstanding this, the possibility of extending services using this
novel type of technology holds great promise for those groups of our population in
the greatest need.
Of the participants in this study 41% presented with normal pure tone averages of ≤
25 dB. Similar average threshold differences and standard deviations were
demonstrated in normal and elevated thresholds. However, few of the subjects had
thresholds of 0 dB. Test duration may be prolonged in subjects with a high
percentage of thresholds between 0 and 10 dB as ambient noise would be more
likely to affect threshold determination in this range. Protracted testing in combination
with the discomfort of a deeply inserted insert earphone may prove a stumbling block
in the application of this technology with young children. Validating this equipment
with a group of normal hearing children may satisfy both this and the prior
consideration.
The realisation of a tele-audiology programme will require the assistance of suitably
qualified personnel. Identifying and establishing a model of service delivery including
relevant training modules for assistants will contribute to ensuring that access to
diagnostic hearing healthcare services may become a reality for all communities.
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4.5 Conclusion
Historically diagnostic air and bone conduction audiometry has been conducted in
conventional annually certified audiometric test booths that allow for testing of
hearing thresholds down to 0 dB. Advances in technology with double transducer
attenuation incorporating insert earphones with circumaural earcups and real-time
on-screen monitoring of noise provide both passive control and active quantification
of transient extraneous interference for testing outside of a booth. This study
presents evidence that valid diagnostic air and bone conduction pure tone hearing
thresholds can be recorded using a mobile computerised audiometer without an
audiometric booth or sound-treated environment. The potential to take diagnostic
audiometry beyond the regular clinical establishment may extend hearing healthcare
services to patients unable to attend clinics for any number of reasons. The
possibility of coupling the extension of diagnostic hearing tests outside of a sound
booth
with
tele-audiology
applications
may
empower
hearing
healthcare
professionals to reach remote communities in low and middle income countries
where audiometric booths and human resources are a scarce luxury and diagnostic
evaluations improbable as a result (Swanepoel et al., 2010a; Swanepoel et al.,
2010b). It is a global concern that communities everywhere have access to hearing
healthcare services (Margolis et al., 2008; Swanepoel et al., 2010b) and for this
cause the continued advances in technology need to be garnered and developed for
the benefit of all people.
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5.
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6. APPENDICIES
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APPENDIX A
ETHICAL CLEARANCE
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APPENDIX B
LETTER TO MANAGEMENT/BODY CORPORATE
OF RETIREMENT FACILITY
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APPENDIX C
PERMISSION FROM RETIREMENT FACILITIES
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APPENDIX D
LETTER TO RESIDENT OF RETIREMENT FACILITY
ENGLISH AND AFRIKAANS
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APPENDIX E
INFORMED CONSENT FORM FOR RESPONDENT
ENGLISH AND AFRIKAANS
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INFORMED CONSENT:
MY PARTICIPATION IN A HEARING TEST PROJECT
Please complete the following:
I ___________________________________, hereby confirm that I have read
the above-stated information on this hearing test project.
I hereby consent to participation in this study. I understand that the data will be
used for research purposes, in accordance with the requirements of the University of Pretoria
and the Guidelines on Research Protocol of The Health Professions Council of South Africa.
___________________________
Signature
___________________
Date
___________________
Contact number/s
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INGELIGTE TOESTEMMING:
MY DEELNAME AAN ‘N GEHOORTOETSPROJEK
Voltooi asseblief die volgende:
Ek, ____________________________________ bevestig dat ek die inligting verskaf oor
hierdie gehoortoetsprojek gelees en verstaan het.
Ek gee hiermee toestemming tot my deelname aan hierdie studie. Ek verstaan dat die data
vir navorsingsdoeleindes gebruik gaan word. Dit word gedoen in ooreenstemming met die
vereistes van die Universiteit van Pretoria en die riglyne vir navorsingsprotokol van die Raad
vir Gesondheidsberoepe van Suid Afrika.
__________________________
Handtekening
__________________
Datum
__________________
Kontaknommer/s
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APPENDIX F
AGREEMENT FROM ROTARY CLUB HERMANUS
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APPENDIX G
THE ‘FAMILIAR SOUNDS’ AUDIOGRAM
FOR FEEDBACK TO PARTICIPANTS
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APPENDIX H
CALIBRATION CERTIFICATE OF
SOUND-TREATED BOOTH
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