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J Am Acad Audiol. 2011 Jul-Aug;22(7):405-23. doi: 10.3766/jaaa.22.7.3.

Clinical experience with the words-in-noise test on 3430 veterans: comparisons with pure-tone thresholds and word recognition in quiet.

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James H. Quillen VA Medical Center, Mountain Home, TN, USA.



Since the 1940s, measures of pure-tone sensitivity and speech recognition in quiet have been vital components of the audiologic evaluation. Although early investigators urged that speech recognition in noise also should be a component of the audiologic evaluation, only recently has this suggestion started to become a reality. This report focuses on the Words-in-Noise (WIN) Test, which evaluates word recognition in multitalker babble at seven signal-to-noise ratios and uses the 50% correct point (in dB SNR) calculated with the Spearman-Kärber equation as the primary metric. The WIN was developed and validated in a series of 12 laboratory studies. The current study examined the effectiveness of the WIN materials for measuring the word-recognition performance of patients in a typical clinical setting.


To examine the relations among three audiometric measures including pure-tone thresholds, word-recognition performances in quiet, and word-recognition performances in multitalker babble for veterans seeking remediation for their hearing loss.


Retrospective, descriptive.


The participants were 3430 veterans who for the most part were evaluated consecutively in the Audiology Clinic at the VA Medical Center, Mountain Home, Tennessee. The mean age was 62.3 yr (SD = 12.8 yr).


The data were collected in the course of a 60 min routine audiologic evaluation. A history, otoscopy, and aural-acoustic immittance measures also were included in the clinic protocol but were not evaluated in this report.


Overall, the 1000-8000 Hz thresholds were significantly lower (better) in the right ear (RE) than in the left ear (LE). There was a direct relation between age and the pure-tone thresholds, with greater change across age in the high frequencies than in the low frequencies. Notched audiograms at 4000 Hz were observed in at least one ear in 41% of the participants with more unilateral than bilateral notches. Normal pure-tone thresholds (≤20 dB HL) were obtained from 6% of the participants. Maximum performance on the Northwestern University Auditory Test No. 6 (NU-6) in quiet was ≥90% correct by 50% of the participants, with an additional 20% performing at ≥80% correct; the RE performed 1-3% better than the LE. Of the 3291 who completed the WIN on both ears, only 7% exhibited normal performance (50% correct point of ≤6 dB SNR). Overall, WIN performance was significantly better in the RE (mean = 13.3 dB SNR) than in the LE (mean = 13.8 dB SNR). Recognition performance on both the NU-6 and the WIN decreased as a function of both pure-tone hearing loss and age. There was a stronger relation between the high-frequency pure-tone average (1000, 2000, and 4000 Hz) and the WIN than between the pure-tone average (500, 1000, and 2000 Hz) and the WIN.


The results on the WIN from both the previous laboratory studies and the current clinical study indicate that the WIN is an appropriate clinic instrument to assess word-recognition performance in background noise. Recognition performance on a speech-in-quiet task does not predict performance on a speech-in-noise task, as the two tasks reflect different domains of auditory function. Experience with the WIN indicates that word-in-noise tasks should be considered the "stress test" for auditory function.

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