Editor's note: This article was originally posted on August 16, 2011. Due to it's overwhelming popularity, we've updated it to republish today.
Every day, we encounter a variety of sounds that hum, buzz, and ring and at safe noise levels. However, individuals of all ages sometimes risk exposure to harmful noises that damage the sensitive structure of the inner ear and cause permanent or temporary noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Inside the ear, small hair cells transmit electrical signals to the brain. These hair cells are often harmed or completely destroyed by extremely loud noises at home, in the workplace, and as we go about living our lives. Common activities like attending rock concerts, working with shop tools, and operating lawn mowing equipment, as well as one-time occurrences like explosions, can destroy these delicate hair cells, resulting in hearing loss and even annoying tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
Luckily, with modern technology comes help in measuring the decibel level of sounds around us. We found some great smart phone apps that raise a red flag when users enter situations that reach noise levels that may contribute to hearing problems. The mobile nature of the smart phone makes it easy to take control of your health and hearing wherever you are, and avoid activities and locations that may be detrimental to healthy ears. Read on to learn more about our favorite iPhone and Android apps for measuring noise levels.
dB Volume Meter
This application, created for iPhone, offers a way to measure audio volume in the environment around you. Created by Darren Gates, dB Volume Meter shows the approximate decibel level, or Sound Pressure Level (SPL), wherever you and your smart phone are located. Although quite accurate, the application is mainly a tool for detecting noise levels in casual settings such as at airports or loud music venues. Those operating heavy machinery, explosive devices, or exposing themselves to known decibel levels over 90 dB should rely on a professional SPL meter. The application provides useful examples of noises that may be over the dangerous 90 dB level, such as gun blasts at close range and jet take-offs. dB Volume Meter must be calibrated to work optimally and requires an external microphone, which is built in to the iPhone 4. This iPhone app can be downloaded at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/db-volume-meter/id353432115?mt=8.
Also developed as an iPhone app, TooLoud? is a sound level meter tool that shows you the noise levels in your environment and warns you if you should be wearing earplugs. It’s often easy to take loud noises for granted as part of the necessity of living or working in certain conditions. TooLoud? provides decibel levels in a simple numerical display and allows you to specify filters and offset values for normal background noise. The offset value can be adjusted positively or negatively, to correspond to features in different microphones or other iOS devices. The Pro version is just $0.99 and removes the advertisements. TooLoud? is quite popular, receiving a 4 of 5 user rating on iTunes mobile app store, and can be downloaded here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tooloud/id393039065?mt=8.
This sound level meter application for the Android market is a simple tool that uses the smart phone’s microphone to measure Sound Pressure Level (SPL). deciBel displays the current, minimum, and maximum values of sounds around you, in decibels, and then turns this information into user-friendly sound level charts and graphs. The free application, developed by Peter Tschudin, offers help with calibrating the program as well as foreign translation. Explore this Android app and download it here: https://market.android.com/details?id=bz.bsb.decibel&feature=search_result.
Think you may have been exposed to too much noise and are experiencing hearing loss? Visit a local hearing center where you can have your hearing tested.
Measuring noise levels isn't the only service available for your mobile phone. Check out "The best apps for captioning" "The best apps to check your hearing" and "The best apps for learning sign language" to find more.