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UNC Expert: Apple’s Noise App ‘Step in the Right Direction’

Apple Watch example

September 17, 2019

University of Northern Colorado Professor Deanna Meinke, a leading researcher of noise-induced hearing loss and prevention, applauded Apple this week for developing a watch app that aims to help people avoid damage to their hearing.

Meinke previously attended a meeting at the World Health Organization, where she’s been an invited speaker, with engineers from companies such as Apple and Bose as discussions unfolded about how to protect hearing when listening through smart devices.

“They’re definitely taking a step in the right direction,” Meinke said of Apple. She expects future updates to address a “missing link” by integrating sound-measurement capabilities into headphones and earbuds to promote safe-listening levels. She notes “it isn’t just about music listening, but all the sounds in our daily lives that can add up to an over-exposure”.

Since 2007, Meinke, Professor Don Finan and UNC students have built “Jolene” mannequins embedded with sensors in silicone ears that display decibel levels from personal listening devices. They take them to K-12 schools to help students find safe-listening zones on their own devices. Meinke and Finan also co-created this safe-listening exhibit featuring the mannequin at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

Meinke, who serves as an expert consultant to the WHO’s Make Listening Safe initiative and co-directs the Dangerous Decibels national intervention program rooted in K-12 classrooms, was recognized by National Hearing Conservation Association for outstanding contributions to the field of hearing loss prevention in 2018.

Other Apps to Protect Hearing

Professor Meinke shared these apps that also help monitor noise*:

*Calibration is critical for accurate measurements and the range of sound levels is limited by the microphones in each device

Hearing Loss Facts

  • According to the CDC, some 360 million people worldwide live with disabling hearing loss and that number is growing. Young and older people are at risk. One in three older adults have hearing loss, and 1.1 billion young people are at risk for hearing loss around the world. High-level sound can cause permanent hearing loss. In addition to loud noises, the daily sounds of life play a role in the decline of the world's hearing health: lawn mowers, recreational vehicles, power tools, sporting events and music are some of the culprits. Other causes of hearing loss include aging and certain pharmaceuticals.
  • While hearing loss is largely preventable, nearly 70% of people never or seldom use noise protection. People with hearing loss often are unaware they have a problem. One in four U.S. adults who reported "excellent to good" hearing already have hearing damage. Health professionals recommend avoiding loud noises, wearing hearing protection, and turning the volume down on loud music. Hearing health checks also should be part of routine health screenings.
  • Individuals are encouraged to have their hearing evaluated by an audiologist. UNC’s Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Clinic provides hearing services for all ages as part of their graduate training program for Audiologists.

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