More than a billion adolescents and youngsters are estimated to be at risk of acquiring recreational noise-induced hearing loss (RNIHL) due to the unsafe use of personal audio systems. RNIHL is preventable; therefore, the present study aimed to determine (i) the accuracy and reliability of dbTrack (Westone) sound-level monitoring earphones and (ii) the effect of sound-level monitoring earphones with smartphone feedback and hearing-health information as an intervention to promote healthy listening behaviors in young adults.
The study consisted of two phases: the first phase investigated the accuracy and reliability of dbTrack sound-level monitoring earphones. Accuracy was determined by comparing earphone measurements to sound level meter measurements. Intradevice reliability was determined by comparing earphone measurements during test-retest conditions. Nineteen participants were recruited through convenience sampling to determine within-subject reliability by comparing in-ear sound levels measured by the earphones during test-retest conditions. For the second phase of the study, a single-group pretest-posttest design was utilized. Forty participants, recruited through snowball sampling, utilized the sound-level monitoring earphones with the accompanying dbTrack smartphone application for 4 weeks. The application’s smartphone feedback was disabled during the first 2 weeks (pretest condition) and enabled during the last 2 weeks (posttest condition). Average daily intensities, durations, and sound dosages measured during pre- and posttest conditions were compared.
Phase 1 dbTrack earphone measurements were within 1 dB when compared with sound level meter measurements. Earphones were also within 1 dB in repeated measures across earphones and across participants. Phase 2 posttest average daily intensity decreased by 8.7 dB (18.3 SD), duration decreased by 7.6 minutes (46.6 SD), and sound dose decreased by 4128.4% (24965.5% SD). Differences in intensity and sound dose were significantly lower with a small and medium effect size, respectively.
This study’s preliminary data indicate that dbTrack (Westone) sound-level monitoring earphones with a calibrated in-ear microphone can reliably and accurately measure personal audio systems sound exposure. Preliminary results also suggest that feedback on sound exposure using the accurate sound-level monitoring earphones with the accompanying dbTrack application can potentially promote safe listening behavior in young adults and reduce the risk of acquiring an RNIHL.