BACKGROUND: Digits-in-noise (DIN) tests have become popular for hearing screening over the past 15 years. Several recent studies have highlighted the potential utility of DIN as a school-aged hearing test. However, age may influence test performance in children due to maturation. In addition, a new antiphasic stimulus paradigm has been introduced, allowing binaural intelligibility level difference (BILD) to be measured by using a combination of conventional diotic and antiphasic DIN.
PURPOSE: This study determined age-specific normative data for diotic and antiphasic DIN, and a derived measure, BILD, in children. A secondary aim evaluated the validity of DIN as a smartphone self-test in a subgroup of young children.
RESEARCH DESIGN: A cross-sectional, quantitative design was used. Participants with confirmed normal audiometric hearing were tested with a diotic and antiphasic DIN. During the test, arrangements of three spoken digits were presented in noise via headphones at varying signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Researchers entered each three-digit spoken sequence repeated by the participant on a smartphone keypad.
STUDY SAMPLE: Overall, 621 (428 male and 193 female) normal hearing children (bilateral pure tone threshold of ≤ 20 dB hearing level at 1, 2, and 4 kHz) ranging between the ages of 6 and 13 years were recruited. A subgroup of 7-year-olds (n = 30), complying with the same selection criteria, was selected to determine the validity of self-testing.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: DIN testing was completed via headphones coupled to a smartphone. Diotic and antiphasic DIN speech recognition thresholds (SRTs) were analyzed and compared for each age group. BILD was calculated through subtraction of antiphasic from diotic SRTs. Multiple linear regressions were run to determine the effect of age on SRT and BILD. In addition, piecewise linear regressions were fit across different age groups. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were used to determine differences between self- and facilitated tests.
RESULTS: Age was a significant predictor, of both diotic and antiphasic DIN SRTs (p < 0.05). SRTs improved by 0.15 dB and 0.35 dB SNR per year for diotic and antiphasic SRTs, respectively. However, age effects were only significant up to 10 and 12 years for antiphasic and diotic SRTs, respectively. Age significantly (p < 0.001) predicted BILD, which increased by 0.18 dB per year. A small SRT advantage for facilitated over self-testing was seen but was not significant (p > 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Increasing age was significantly associated with improved SRT and BILD using diotic and antiphasic DINs. DIN could be used as a smartphone self-test in young children from 7 years of age with appropriate quality control measures to avoid potential false positives.