Apps

Turning Fourth of July Into a Science Lesson

By Kelly N. Barahona

In most cities if not towns of a certain size in the U.S., a grand display of fireworks for the Fourth of July is part of the celebration of America’s birthday. But just how loud are the fireworks people have come to expect every summer? Unfortunately fireworks can measure from 140 to as high as 165 decibels, easily a hearing-damaging event if you are sitting too close.

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the festivities. With the abundance of decibel-reading apps for smartphones it’s easier than ever before to learn how much noise is in the world around us. Most apps use the smartphone’s microphone to give a reading of the decibel level. As with a professional-grade meter, most apps can also show how the noise fluctuates over time, in real time, and provide numerical reference points that users can compare to their own sound levels. Some apps even let you geo-tag the decibel level to a specific location, like your local coffee shop or favorite restaurant.

Parents, camp counselors, and teachers can turn the Fourth of July into a science lesson. On the night of the fireworks show, Hearing Health Foundation recommends staying at least one block away from where the fireworks are being displayed and using a smartphone app to measure the decibel level.

If you want to be closer to the action, protect your hearing by using foam earplugs or over-the-ear earmuffs for the youngest children. A fun but loud activity like this can be a good segue for conversations about how listening to music at too loud a volume and participating in noisy recreational activities may be harmful, as well as how to incorporate better hearing health practices in your daily life.

Fourth of July should be a time of fun and enjoyment, but as with anything, it is necessary to take precautions to make the holiday safe as well. Teach your loved ones about the noises and sounds around them to hopefully encourage everyone to take active measures to protect their hearing on a regular basis. Remember, noise is the most preventable cause of hearing loss.

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Telehealth Tools Can Change Your Hearing Care

By Carol Meyers, Au.D.

We continue to benefit from incredible technological advances that assist in the diagnosis and treatment of many health conditions. One rapidly growing technology with the potential to revolutionize hearing care is telehealth, which utilizes telecommunication technologies like smartphone apps to provide virtual healthcare and education services to patients.

Many hearing aid wearers already use apps that serve as remote controls or audio streamers for their hearing aids. As manufacturers develop more ways to leverage smartphone apps, consumers can also expect to change the way they interact with their hearing care professional for the better. Here are some ways telehealth hearing care apps can help you.

Save time and effort.

Nothing will ever completely replace face-to-face interactions with your healthcare providers. However, some issues can be resolved with a brief conversation. Telehealth apps offer text, voice, and even video calls so that you can consult your hearing care professional without making a trip to the office. Furthermore, apps can store useful information, such as care and usage instructions and troubleshooting guides, so you can use them to solve problems at your convenience. This is particularly advantageous if you live in a remote area, cannot take time off work, or have difficulty getting around.

Adjust to wearing new hearing aids.
Getting used to wearing new hearing aids involves actually retraining your brain to process all the sounds that you were missing before amplification. Hearing care apps can assign you simple daily exercises to complete, such as rustle a newspaper or have group conversation during a family meal. These exercises encourage your exposure to a variety of listening situations. As you complete these tasks, you can rate your satisfaction with the experience, which is then transmitted to your hearing care professional.

Let hearing care professional monitor your hearing needs.

Your hearing care professional wants to ensure your satisfaction and success just as much as you want your questions and concerns about your new hearing aids resolved. Your ratings and feedback regarding new listening experiences can be transmitted via the app to your hearing care professional, who can then contact you if necessary.

Have your hearing aids adjusted remotely.

Not only can your hearing care professional interact with you via apps, they can also access your hearing aid settings directly without your needing to visit the office. Based on your feedback (via a text or call) they can adjust your hearing aid settings and send the update through the app to your hearing aids. Once you accept the change, those adjustments take effect so you can try them out immediately.

Finally, telehealth apps are safe. They are secured via end-to-end encryption so that interactions and conversations between you and your hearing care professional remain private. The next time you visit your hearing care professional, ask how a hearing aid telehealth app can help you.

With more than 25 years of clinical practice, Carol Meyers, Au.D., is an educational specialist for Signia responsible for the training and education of staff and hearing care professionals in the U.S. on the company’s products, technology, software, services, and audiology-related topics.

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Real-Time Text: The FCC Makes It Official

By Kathi Mestayer

This will be the standard symbol for real-time text, from the RTT    website   .

This will be the standard symbol for real-time text, from the RTT website.

Have you ever been on a phone call, slowly spelling out the word you just used? And finding out how very similar fifteen and fifty sound? Or how tough it is to communicate a word such as “impingement,” even if you do spell it?

The good news is that the FCC has now enacted the long-awaited transition to providing real-time text (RTT) by cellphone providers. "Real-time text allows characters to be sent as they are created without hitting ‘send,’” according to the Dec. 15, 2016, FCC press release. “This allows text to be sent at the same time as voice communications, permitting a more conversation-friendly service.”

People with hearing loss will now be able to clarify (or receive clarification) of spoken content by quickly texting the word(s) to the other party, without interrupting the ongoing conversation (or hitting “send”).

This action is discussed briefly in Hearing Health’s Winter 2017 issue here (before the official adoption of the rules by FCC had been completed).  

The new FCC rules require large phone carriers to make RTT available by the end of this year. The first phase would require users to download an app, but RTT would eventually be built into phones.  

According to Christian Vogler, the director of Gallaudet University’s Technology Access Program, AT&T worked closely with Gallaudet at various stages of planning for RTT. In one case the testing made it possible to show “how well it held up under network conditions that can be too poor even for voice calls.”

“Too poor for voice calls”—who hasn’t been there? Very soon we’ll have another option. For more information, see the RTT website.

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Your Cell Phone Can Save Your Hearing

By Murray Grossan, M.D.

As a ear, nose, and throat specialist I treat patients with hearing loss and tinnitus. Did you know that by simply by using your smartphone, you can help prevent these hearing conditions?

Loud noises damage the ear. But how loud is too loud? When a guest attends a wedding and sees children seated in front of eight-foot speakers, are the speakers too loud? Your phone knows.

When a parent yells to his teenagers to lower the volume of their music, is it truly too loud? Your phone knows.

There are many smartphone apps available to Apple and Android operating systems. A simple search for the terms “sound meters” or “decibel meters” will bring up  different apps, including many of which are free!

Hearing sounds at 115 decibels for more than 15 minutes can cause permanent hearing loss. With hearing loss you may also develop tinnitus. Chronic tinnitus can be so distracting that it can disrupt daily life, including the loss of sleep.

It is not essential to know all the ins and outs of sound measurement in order to protect your hearing. (For technical details, see the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s report.) A sound meter is all you need.

Why? It may be hard to realize how loud a sound really is, how close you are to it, and how long you are exposed to it. One person says the sound is too loud; another says it seems fine. A smartphone sound meter can measure the volume level. Recent research by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health scientists shows the apps’ accuracy is approaching that of professional sound meters. And once you know the danger, you can limit your exposure: Block, walk, and turn.

We know that many older people have hearing loss. But science is not sure if age causes the loss or if it is an accumulation of years of hearing loud noises, just as the cumulative effects of sun exposure are evident decades later. I have an 88-year-old patient with perfect hearing. She never used a noisy lawnmower.

If sound meter use becomes common, and we are all fully aware of the danger of noise exposure, you won’t see children seated in front of giant speakers at a wedding. And I sincerely hope that I will see fewer people at my office because they can’t hear and have tinnitus.

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7-Day Challenge for Better Hearing Health

By Maggie Niu

In honor of National Public Health Week kicking off April 4, Hearing Health Foundation has seven challenges for you to complete over the course of next week, all related to hearing loss and hearing prevention. Help us celebrate by completing our list of challenges below and sharing your experiences in with us in the comments.

On your mark… get set…GO!

Day 1: Make an appointment to get your hearing tested!

It is important to have your ears tested at least once a year, especially if you are experiencing any buzzing or ringing in your ears or unable to hear clearly. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment: Early intervention is key for preventing further damage.

Here is a directory for audiologists from the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. It is super-easy and quick to find an audiologist close to you. Simply type in your zip code and the radius you are willing to travel and bing, you have your list of audiologists.

Day 2: Reduce the volume on personal music devices to under 70% of the maximum.

We all know that unwanted noise is a nuisance so we try everything in our power to drown it out—either by turning up the volume of the music we're listening to, or talking louder. In the long run, does it benefit our hearing health? The answer is no.

Noise-induced hearing loss can occur gradually over time by listening to loud music or being exposed to loud environmental noises. We can’t always control ambient noise, but we can control personal earphone volume. Next time you are using your earphones on a high volume, remember that you are damaging your ears!

Day 3: Plan a fundraiser to help us find a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus.

Need some ideas? See examples of past events and ideas for creating your own event. Individuals, companies, organizations, sororities, and fraternities of all sizes have joined in our efforts, and we hope you will too!

Day 4: Keep a journal of the foods you eat and note the loudness of the environment you’re in. You may be surprised at what you find.

Noise can affect many things. It can cause stress and affect our mood, but would you believe that noise can affect your palate? A Cornell University study found, "…that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced," said Robin Dando, an assistant professor of food science. "The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat."

Day 5: Eat this! Incorporate certain nutrients into your diet for optimal hearing health.

Now we know that noise can affect the taste of food we eat, but are there foods that can help our ears? Check out these five nutrients that can prevent or delay hearing loss. 

Day 6: Use everyday technology to enhance your hearing health. 

Take control of your hearing health with the technology you use daily: download a sound level meter on your smartphone or tablet to measure the decibel levels. In our Winter 2015 Hearing Health magazine, we listed apps that were vetted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and they include: NoiSee by Noise Lab ($1), Noise Hunter by Inter•net2day ($6), and SoundMeter by Faber Acoustical ($20). These apps were cited as providing the most accurate A-weighted sound level measurements.

Other apps include: The Jacoti ListenApp, where you can test your hearing via earphones, and the LesserSound App, which allows the user to take sound readings and record the location from where the noise was recorded. 

Day 7: Share your story!

Share your story about living with hearing loss, tinnitus, or other hearing conditions and how it has affected you via our online scrapbookblog, or magazine. Inspire others who are touched by similar conditions so that we can help raise awareness about the prevalence of hearing loss and other hearing disorders as well as our research to find better treatments, therapies, and ultimately a cure.

You can share your story by emailing us at info@hhf.org. It can be on ANYTHING related to hearing loss, tinnitus, or other hearing related conditions, such as funny storiespersonal experiencestips for our readers, or hearing health. If you would like to contribute but find that you're having writer's block, email us anyway! We're HEAR to get you through it! (Pun intended.) 

These are just some tips and advice that can help your hearing and the broader hearing health community. For any additional questions please contact your audiologist, email us at info@hhf.org, or visit our website.

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Handicapable

By Kate Yandell

Dominic Pisano hadn’t even arrived on campus to start his freshman year at Johns Hopkins University when he got his first email from biomedical engineer Tilak Ratnanather. He had heard Pisano was deaf and wanted to meet with him. Ratnanather, who has been deaf since birth, showed up for the meeting accompanied by a second deaf student who would later become a doctor. “He was, like: ‘Here’s my deaf army,’” Pisano recalls.

Soon, Pisano, a soccer enthusiast from Ohio, was interpreting magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in Ratnanather’s department. When Pisano decided he wanted to go to medical school, Ratnanather was ready to introduce him to his wide network of friends in the otolaryngology department at Hopkins. Pisano assisted in MRI research at Hopkins for a year before attending Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

“I’ll be honest with you, if it weren’t for Tilak I probably wouldn’t have gone to medical school,” says Pisano, now a resident in anesthesiology at Tufts Medical Center. “I probably wouldn’t have done biomedical engineering research. Most importantly, I probably wouldn’t have the kind of network I have.”

Photo: Tilak Ratnanather    Courtesy Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Photo: Tilak Ratnanather

Courtesy Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

It was this kind of service that won Ratnanather the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring this past March. Over the years, Ratnanather has lobbied for better resources for deaf attendees at conferences, organized annual dinners for deaf researchers, helped award scholarships to hearing-impaired students through the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell), and mentored more than a dozen hearing-impaired students.

“He’s by nature the most gregarious and extroverted individual,” says Howard Francis, a professor of otolaryngology at Hopkins who has known Ratnanather for 23 years. “He has a sense of mission and is committed to making it possible for others to achieve what he has achieved.”

“A lot of people have a hard time understanding him [due to his deafness-related difficulties with speech],” says Pisano, “but despite that, they still enjoy his company, and they want to be connected with him.”

Ratnanather was born in 1963 in Sri Lanka with profound hearing loss of unknown origin. His family moved to London when he was 18 months old, and he grew up wearing hearing aids and attending the Mary Hare School for Deaf Children.

Ratnanather’s parents, a pediatrician and a computer systems programmer, had high hopes for their son. “My father and I would talk about mathematics and would go through some problems at home,” he says. “I had an aptitude, and then, of course, I would go to the science museum and learn about famous mathematicians.” Ratnanather enrolled at University College London, where he met mathematician Keith Stewartson, who immediately made the young undergrad comfortable about his hearing loss and the assistive technologies he needed to use in the classroom. “I knew he would make my life easy,” says Ratnanather. “I didn’t have to worry about my deafness.”

Tragically, Stewartson died suddenly at the end of Ratnanather’s first year at university. But the young student forged ahead, and after doing some reading about Stewartson’s research on fluid dynamics, Ratnanather went on to study the subject in graduate school at the University of Oxford, receiving his D.Phil. in mathematics in 1989.

Up until that point, Ratnanather had only had occasional opportunities to learn about an area near to his heart: hearing research. This changed after he attended a research symposium at the 1990 AG Bell Convention in Washington, D.C. Fascinated by the work of William Brownell, Ratnanather approached the Johns Hopkins researcher after Brownell had given a talk about outer hair cell electromotility—the process by which these sensory cells shorten or lengthen in response to electrical impulses.

When outer hair cells change shape, they transmit mechanical force to the cochlea, amplifying the ear’s sensitivity to soft sounds at specific frequencies. Forces transmitted through pressurized fluids in outer hair cells make electromotility possible, explains Brownell, who is now at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He needed someone who could model the dynamics of fluid within these tiny spaces. “Tilak had the computational tools to begin to study this,” Brownell says.

Ratnanather began a postdoc in Brownell’s lab in 1991. During his postdoc, he realized he could bestow upon students the confidence his mentors fostered in him. The Internet helped him reach out to other deaf people through newsgroups. Lina Reiss, who had severe hearing loss by age 2, first met Ratnanather when she was an undergraduate at Princeton University and he replied to an online post in which she introduced herself to one of these newsgroups.

The daughter of two Ph.D.s, Reiss had always known that she wanted to go into the sciences. But she was not sure what career would be possible with her hearing loss. “I didn’t have any role models of what it was like to be a deaf faculty member,” she recalls. “Until I met [Tilak and some of his deaf friends], I couldn’t imagine becoming a professor.”

Ratnanather helped get Reiss a summer internship in the hearing-research lab of a colleague at Johns Hopkins, where she studied how neurons in the brain stem encode and process sound. Enthralled with the research, she went on to do her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering in the same lab. She is now an assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland researching how hearing loss, hearing aids, and cochlear implants influence the way people perceive sound.

Ratnanather now primarily does brain-mapping research focused on understanding how brain structures are altered in people with diseases such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and bipolar disorder. But hearing science continues to influence his work. He has published several recent studies on fluid dynamics and hair cell function and has upcoming papers on imaging the auditory regions of the brain in deaf adults and babies.

And, spurred partly by his own cochlear implant surgery in 2012, Ratnanather has created an app for adults learning how to hear following the surgery. Called Speech Banana, the app is named after the banana-shaped region in an audiogram that contains human speech.

More than just providing professional connections, Ratnanather has influenced how his former students navigate the world. Being deaf can make it scary to think outside the box or challenge opinions, Pisano says.  Ratnanather encourages his mentees to keep an open mind and engage with others—hearing and nonhearing alike. “That helped shape my mentality about life in general today,” Pisano says.

Reprinted with permission. "Handicapable" originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of The Scientist, a special issue devoted to hearing research. The article can be accessed online here. See also The Scientist’s Facebook page, where this article generated many comments.

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Hearing Health Foundation is thrilled that Tilak Ratnanather, D.Phil., received this outstanding honor and recognition from the White House for his mentoring efforts. Ratnanather was a recipient of an Emerging Research Grant (ERG) in 1993, and has continued to champion HHF and its mission to prevent and cure hearing loss and tinnitus.

Dominic Pisano, M.D., who is quoted in this article, served on HHF’s inaugural National Junior Board (now known as HHF’s New York Council) in 2012. He has written about his decision to get a cochlear implant (CI) on our website and the tips and tricks he used to succeed in medical school in our magazine, and he appeared in an HHF public service announcement.

Also quoted in the article, Lina Reiss, Ph.D., was an ERG recipient in 2012 and 2013, and went on to win funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication and Disorders. She cowrote a piece about hybrid CIs and the way they make use of residual hearing ability. HHF congratulates all for their achievements!

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Make Listening Safe

By Sloan Blanton

Our ears are one of our most precious commodities. With our ears we are able to communicate with our peers, enjoy the beauty of music, tune into the natural world around us and become aware of safety hazards, such as sirens. Some people are born without the ability to hear, and for thousands of years those individuals lived without any legitimate hearing solutions. In the past 150 years, numerous technological advancements have emerged, providing hearing assistance through the use of hearing aids, assistive listening devices, cochlear implants, and more.

However, today's increasingly industrialized society poses a new risk. A growing number of people are prone to noise-induced hearing loss. Our smartphones and personal audio devices increase our vulnerability, especially when we are tuned in for extended periods of time. Concerts, nightclubs, and sporting events make us prone to hearing loss as well.

For all of these reasons and more, the First International Conference on Prevention and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impairment established the annual International Ear Care Day in 2007. The event is held on March 3 each year to build advocacy and promote hearing care in countries all around the world. This year's theme is: "Make Listening Safe."

The World Health Organization (WHO) works closely with this event, releasing an annual assessment of each country's status in providing quality ear care services. This year, the WHO found startling numbers to be true about the state of hearing loss in the world; over 1.1 billion young adults ages 12 to 35 are at risk for "recreational hearing loss." In this age group, 43 million people currently deal with the unfortunate effects of hearing loss, whether it is noise-induced or through birth defects or illnesses. Recreational hearing loss leads to many harmful effects. Physical and mental health can be affected, as well as employment and education opportunities. Hearing loss may also lead to attention-seeking behaviors and learning disabilities.

“As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” says Dr. Etienne Krug, the director of the WHO’s Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence, and Injury Prevention. “They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk.”

Both intensity and duration affect safe listening levels. The safe level at 85 decibels (dB) is eight hours of continual exposure. The number drops drastically at 100 dB to just 15 minutes. Exposure to these loud sounds usually leads to temporary hearing loss and a ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus). When the exposure is particularly loud, regular, or prolonged, it can lead to permanent hearing loss and a lack of speech comprehension, and is damaging the ear's sensory cells. High-frequency sounds are typically the first to be impacted.

To reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss, set the volume on your personal audio device to no greater than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Wear earplugs in bars, at sporting events, and in other loud places. Even using headphones allows sound to be customized for individual listeners. Take short breaks while in loud environments to reduce the harmful effects of noise exposure, such as avoiding loudspeakers.

By having one’s ears checked regularly, individuals are able to monitor the onset of hearing loss before it becomes a serious concern. There are also many smartphone apps that provide useful information regarding volume levels to inform users of whether they are exposing their precious ears to risky sound levels.

Hearing Health Foundation is a proud supporter and partner of International Ear Care Day. It is worth marking on your calendar in an effort to curb the trend of noise-induced hearing loss while encouraging mankind to develop lasting solutions to lifelong problems.

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Turning Tables for Hearing Health

By Chill Kechil

Chill Kechil is our latest Les Paul Ambassador, helping to educate musicians and others about the risks of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Here, the New Jersey-based DJ and composer describes how he has managed his hearing loss while building a career in the music industry.

I found out in high school through hearing tests that I had some high frequency hearing loss. This caused me to be very aware of protection at a relatively early age. I fortunately did not go to a lot of concerts and wore earplugs way before they became commonly used. 

As I began DJing and producing music, I became aware of many technology tools that help both protect and aid me in producing music. The most common technology app is the dB (Decibel) Meter that I have on my iPhone. I also had custom earplugs made that I use when the sound in a venue is loud. When DJing, I use headphones that are best at “isolating” the sound in the headphones and reducing the outside sounds. This not only protects my hearing but also allows me to mix the next song in my headphones before playing them over the sound system to the audience. When DJs wear headphones, this is what they are usually doing—mixing the next song into the current one that is playing. 

 

When composing and producing music, there are several applications that I’ve found helpful. The first is a volume limiter that I use on the output channel of the mix. This prevents the signal/sound from going too loud and becoming distorted, which could damage your hearing as well as the sound equipment. 

The second is the use of a visual EQ (equalizer) monitor which allows you to “see” the frequencies of the sound being played. This indicates whether there is too much or too little sound in low to high frequencies, allowing me to mix the music better for a better listening experience. In particular, since my focus is on the high frequency areas, I use the visual EQ to monitor too much signal in that range. (There are many types of EQ tools available but I think many producers use visual monitors in one way or another.)

I also learned that, although human hearing technically ranges from 20 to 20,000 hertz (Hz), most people don’t fully hear the entire range, and in the higher and lower frequencies they may only be able to sense that there is a sound being made. A common practice in producing is to use filters to cancel and smooth out sounds below the lower and higher ends of the frequency spectrum. This prevents signals in the lower frequencies from causing unnecessary vibrations or rumbles as well as preventing artificial, “fizzy” sounds at the high frequencies. The ear is most sensitive to sound from about 2,000 to 5,000 Hz, so this is where I try to focus on minimizing peaks in the sound levels. 

Chill Kechil is donating a portion of his music and apparel proceeds to Hearing Health Foundation. Support HHF and enjoy his music at chillkechil.com. Read more about Chill Kechil in the upcoming Spring issue of Hearing Health magazine, out in April.

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Undercover Noise Cop

By Kathi Mestayer

New Year, New You? If you’re planning to hit the gym as part of a New Year’s resolution, don’t forget that being healthy includes protecting your hearing. Look for “No Pain, No Gain?” this January in Hearing Health magazine.

To write my story, I had to do some sleuthing. I’ve been doing undercover noise data collection for a few months. My instruments range from two virtually invisible smartphone apps (SoundMeter+ and AudioTools) to a very visible, unwieldy, professional sound meter. Everyone can see it, but nobody knows what it is.

Picture me in my bathing suit (be kind), walking around a huge, cavernous, swimming pool area at a community recreation center. I’m cradling the professional sound meter like a baby in my arms, its 3-inch-diameter sponge microphone cover sticking out like a huge Tootsie Roll. In my other hand is my smartphone, its decibel app meter flying back and forth at a rate so fast I can barely see it.  

The folks in the aquatics class at my end of the pool are working out, following the instructor’s movements. The boom box is barely audible due to the extremely resonant sound bouncing off of the glass and steel.

The teacher, who knows me from classes I’ve taken, gives me a “what on earth are you doing?” look, and then quickly goes back to her teaching. The lifeguard, on the other hand, is taking the liberty of really staring at me. I’m feeling pretty conspicuous.  

I take a few readings with both meters, and get a range of 74 to 78 dBA (the unit dBA measures sound levels as perceived by humans). Then, I skulk along the side of the pool to the aquatics boom box, to see how much it is adding to the din. It adds about 4 dBA, which is a significant jump in decibel terms.

As I note in my story on noisy gyms (coming up in the Winter 2014 issue of Hearing Health, out in January):

“Remember that decibel increases are magnified: 80 dBA is twice as loud as 77 dBA—the sound energy doubles with each 3 dBA increase. So while 4 dBA doesn’t seem like much on a linear scale, it’s a big difference in dBA terms.”

On my way out, I slink over to the lifeguard and tell her what I’m doing. She doesn’t ask what readings I’m getting but luckily for her, it’s within Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) limits for her as a worker. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to worry about hearing damage, at least at this sound level.

LEARN MORE:

Hearing Health magazine staff writer Kathi Mestayer serves on advisory boards for the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Greater Richmond, Va., chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

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How Your Smartphone Can Help You Hear Better

By Yishane Lee

Since they first became available, smartphones such as those from Google and Apple have provided a boon to people who have hearing loss. Because of the sophisticated, built-in microphone in these phones, there is a panoply of apps (applications) that help boost the volume at varying levels of sophistication, and many are free or nearly free to download. Composer Richard Einhorn (a friend of HHF) has described the various apps he uses in his work as well as hear better.

There are also apps that measure decibel levels, allow you to mix sounds to favor high frequencies, and help you program your hearing device. In Hearing Health magazine, we have written about and reviewed various apps—see “12 Apps to Help You Hear Better” and “Apps Explosion”—and the field is constantly evolving and expanding.

Now we have what promises to be an even more seamless integration between the smartphone and hearing aid. Last year, Apple, the maker of the iPhone and iPad, made its programming interface accessible to hearing aid manufacturers so that they can better integrate hearing devices with those devices. In October, as reported by David Copithorne on the blog Hearing Mojo, Denmark-based hearing aid maker ReSound has announced the first “made for the iPhone” hearing aid, the LiNX.

Copithorne predicts that Apple’s “cool factor” will encourage more first-time hearing aid users to try a hearing aid such as LiNX. Plus, the technology in LiNX eliminates the need for an added device (such as a neck loop) in order to stream sound between a smartphone and hearing aid—a simplification both first-time and long-time hearing aid users will appreciate.

Among the many tech upgrades that Copithorne reports, ReSound also says it has resolved a nagging issue for people who use wireless technology and/or Bluetooth for extended periods of time: battery drain. It promises its new device  is more powerful and less power hungry than others.

It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the new apps that are introduced (and keep in mind that Apple reviews apps before allowing them into iTunes, whereas Google does not have a vetting process for apps available on Google Play). That said, two new apps are taking fresh approaches to sound and hearing. The first is Lumisonic, which was originally designed to work for music. The app (available for the Nintendo Wii console, iPhone, or a PC or Apple desktop computer) adds real-time graphics and vibrations to any sound. Its software translates soundwaves from music or speech into radiating circles that are altered based on the sound. You can also alter the sounds yourself, like a synthesizer.

Proloquo2Go is an iPhone-only app that aims to help people who have no voice to communicate. After selecting a sentence using easy-to-understand graphical icons, the app pronounces it and writes it for you. You can add words not in the app’s vocabulary database by typing them in and selecting new icons; you can even take photos using the iPhone and assign them to words. Voices varied by gender and age are available to read the sentences.

As the smartphone (and tablet) market continues to expand, you can bet we’ll have ever more hearing-related apps. Let us know about your favorites below.

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