Apple introduced the ability to track your exposure to noise level on the Apple Watch in 2019. The company also thrown out three clinical research studies along with that feature, including one to examine hearing health. Now, just over a year later, Apple shares some preliminary results in time for World Hearing Day.
For the Apple Hearing Study, Apple partnered with the University of Michigan to analyze how daily exposure to sound can affect hearing over time. In a briefing, Dr. Rick Neitzel of the University of Michigan noted that the “thousands” of study participants volunteered your data and, In addition to regular questionnaires, he participated in regular hearing tests. The study also looked at noise exposure from headphones and was not necessarily limited to data collected from the Apple Watch. Exposure data from headphones, for example, could also be collected from the iPhone and iPad. That said, the researchers were able to get more detailed data from watch wearers, including ambient noise, heart rate, heart rate variability, and exercise.
According to Neitzel, one intriguing takeaway of the first data is that one in five the participants experienced some type of hearing loss, according to World Health Organization guidelines, and there appears to be a link between chronic ambient noise and cardiovascular disease. In addition, almost 50% of the participants currently work, or previously worked, in a noisy workplace. Another surprising piece of information was that despite the COVID-19 crashes, many participants still had high exposure to ambient noise (although overall noise exposure was cut almost in half). About 10% of the participants had also been professionally diagnosed with hearing loss, but despite that diagnosis, 75% of them did not use assistive support such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. Another 10% had an average exposure to sound from headphones that exceeded the WHO weekly limits, and 20% had a daily exposure above the WHO daily limits. Another sobering finding was that 25% regularly experienced ringing in the ears that could tinnitus a few times a week and that nearly 50% had not had their hearing examined by a professional in at least a decade.
The findings are truly impressive when you consider the scale and detailed data. that wearables can report with just passive healthsupervision. TO major problem that may occur with health research is that the findings may come from a limited sample that may not be indicative of the general population or have inherent bias (i.e. not enough BIPOC subjects, etc.) With wearables, you can actually conduct ongoing research with a much, much larger portion of the population. the Apple Heart Study, for example, managed to obtain 400,000 participants in eight months, which makes it the study to date.
On that front, Neitzel said who believes that the participants in the Apple Hearing Study are generally accurate representative of the general population. He also noted that access to location data, for example, can help researchers search for more esoteric patterns. For example, researchers can now ask questions like: “Is hearing loss worse in an area with more air pollution?”
Apple’s hearing study is still ongoing, and Neitzel noted there is still more to learn. In particular, Neitzel noted to understand how noise exposure and typical earphone listening patterns might affect future hearing health, including tinnitus, as well as to further explore the relationship between hearing and cardiovascular health. In the meantime though, it’s probably a good idea if we all turn down the volume on our headphones.