Assessment of the Efficacy of a Hearing Screening Program for College Students

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The Towson University (TU) Speech-Language-Hearing Center (SLHC) conducts annual hearing screenings for college students entering education or health-care professions. Hearing is screened in therapy rooms, and students who fail the screening are rescreened in a sound-treated booth. Students who fail the rescreening are referred for a comprehensive audiological assessment, which is offered at no cost to students at the SLHC.


The purpose of this study was to examine the efficacy of the hearing screening program, to report trends in hearing screening statistics for the college student population, and to make recommendations regarding ways universities can optimize hearing screening programs.

Research Design:

The study included retrospective and prospective portions. Hearing screening records were reviewed from 1999 to 2011. The prospective study involved recruiting students to participate in diagnostic testing following the hearing screening and measuring background noise levels in the therapy rooms.

Study Sample:

Hearing screening records from 1999 to 2011 were reviewed. In addition, during the three-day fall 2011 hearing screenings, 80 students were selected to participate in diagnostic testing.

Data Collection and Analysis:

Data from the retrospective review were used to determine positive predictive value (PPV) between screening and rescreening. Return rates were also examined. For the prospective study, pure tone threshold results were compared to screening results to determine sensitivity, specificity, and PPV.


The retrospective file review indicated that the hearing screening in the therapy room had poor PPV compared with the rescreening in the sound booth. Specifically, if a student failed the screening, they had only a 49% chance of failing the rescreening. This may have been due to background noise, as the prospective study found noise levels were higher than allowed by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard. Only a third of students referred for diagnostic testing from 1999 to 2010 returned for recommended diagnostic testing. For the prospective study, specificity and sensitivity were good when considering hearing loss present at the same frequencies as those screened (1000, 2000, 4000 Hz) but poor in comparison to hearing loss overall. The screening missed many students with a high frequency notch, which was most prevalent at 6000 Hz. The prevalence of a high frequency notch was 21 and 51%, using two different criteria for establishing the presence of a notch.


If college hearing screenings are conducted in rooms that are not sound treated, poor PPV should be expected; thus, an immediate second stage rescreening for failures should be conducted in a sound booth. Hearing screenings limited to 1000, 2000, and 4000 Hz will miss many cases of hearing loss in the college-age population. College hearing screening program directors should carefully consider the purpose of the screening and adjust screening protocol, such as adding 6000 Hz and a question about noise exposure, in order to identify early signs of noise-induced hearing loss in college students. Programs should focus on ways to promote high return for follow-up rates. Estimates of prevalence of a high-frequency audiometric notch are highly dependent on the criteria used to define a notch.

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