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Could your Smartphone save your hearing?

Date: Tuesday 18th June, 2013

Technology is advancing at a rapid rate these days in just about every field. Bigger and more powerful equipment for a number of different uses is being developed all the time. The problem with bigger and more powerful though is that it can often mean louder and while these advancements are great, many people are forgetting the consequences that can arise. Specifically, damage to your hearing. Equipment in certain work environments can sometimes come with potentially damaging decibel levels, like construction sites or nightclubs and bars. Have you ever been to a bar or club and thought, “I can hardly hear myself think”? Well, this is a major problem as you may not realise that regularly going for a couple of harmless drinks could ultimately be damaging your hearing!

This was an issue that occurred to researchers from the Audiology department at the LSU Health Sciences Centre in New Orleans. So they began an investigation into the possible effects of this type of noise exposure. They wanted to determine if noise levels in certain environments exceeded the acceptable and, indeed, legal limits. Annette Hurley, PhD, LSUHSC Assistant Professor of Audiology said, "An important part of an audiologist's practice is aiding patients in their attempts to protect their hearing from hazardous sound levels. Audiologists educate their patients about the dangers of hazardous noise to hearing health and provide hearing protection to patients when appropriate. Often, we are called upon to perform sound level measurements and offer input into the drafting of new noise legislation."

Using a selection of locations in the French Quarter of New Orleans, they used sound meters to assess the level of noise. On average, they detected levels of between 58 and 93 dB which despite being very loud, does not violate noise ordinance levels. This is potentially worrying as 85 dB is the level where hearing protection is recommended. When these findings were presented to the owners of the tested establishments they offered to install sound proofing to protect nearby residents. This does not solve the problem for the people actually inside the venues though.

As most people are not aware of the fact that these noise levels can be dangerous, these researchers have suggested a way that today’s technology could actually help people to prevent possible permanent damage to their hearing.

The chances are that you have heard of an ‘App’. Even if you don’t own a Smartphone or other type of mobile phone that uses them, you can’t miss all the adverts and marketing etc. For example, there are apps that allow you to see what a new paint colour or piece of furniture will look like in your house. Apps to help you find a restaurant or takeaway, watch TV shows you have missed and even make your own movies.

Well, the people at LCU are recommending an app that can actually measure the noise levels in different environments so you can see if you are at risk from hearing damage. They were quoted as saying, "This allows individuals to conveniently and inexpensively obtain estimates of many different types of noise at different locations to not only determine noise compliance issues, but more importantly, empowers individuals to be involved in their hearing health."

Although this is a fantastic idea, getting people to listen and actually download this app may prove to be a challenge. The youth of today especially, seem to think they are indestructible and tend not to worry about things like hearing loss, believing that it is something that only happens with old age. Coupled with the fact that apps usually have a charge to download, something like this may not hold appeal for the younger generation who are often at the greatest risk from things like clubs, bars and concerts.

However, if something like this could be implemented it could go a long way towards helping to reduce the number of people developing a hearing loss because of exposure to loud noises. More awareness needs to be raised, especially among young people to the dangers of noise damage to prevent permanent hearing problems as recent statistics are alarming. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, there are currently over 5 million people aged 6 to 19 and 26 million aged 20 to 69 who currently have some degree of noise induced hearing loss.

Author: Paul Harrison

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