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.