New mHealth tympanometer developed by Duke researchers could address preventable hearing loss in children

By Brittany Vekstein

mHealth tympanometerThe World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 60% of childhood hearing loss could be avoided through prevention measures. Preventable childhood hearing loss also disproportionately affects underserved populations and has lifelong consequences for language development, school achievement, and future employment opportunities.

Samantha Robler, AuD, PhD, from Norton Sound Health Corporation and Susan D. Emmett, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Head and Neck Surgery and Audiology and Associate Professor of Global Health at Duke University, have been researching childhood hearing loss in remote and rural areas of Alaska. Their work identified a gap in the screening tools that can be used to identify children with hearing loss.

Current tympanometers, used for identifying middle ear disease, such as ear infections, are available but they are expensive and require trained audiologists, like Robler, to use and interpret the results. Including a tool that can identify middle ear disease is important for screening programs in underserved populations, where there is often a high prevalence of infection-related hearing loss. However, screening programs today don’t commonly include this tool due to cost and the need for an audiologist to conduct the test.

Robler and Emmett saw a need for an affordable and accessible tympanometer that could be used in schools and by community health workers and clinicians, particularly those in remote locales, to screen children for hearing loss. “Tympanometry is an essential tool for evaluating infection-related hearing loss, but a mobile and lay-friendly tympanometer to support mass screening programs just doesn’t exist,” said Robler.

Robler and Emmett approached Mark Palmeri, MD, PhD, a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke