Sounder Smartphones

According to the Pew Research Center, by 2018 95% of all Americans have a cellphone. And three out of four of us now use smartphones. That includes nearly half of codgers like me, who are older than 65 years of age.

So what does this have to do with protecting our hearing? More than you may think!

First, consider the volume you’ve set for your phone to play back into your ears. Like any other sound source, if it’s too loud, it can damage your hearing.

Perhaps you’ve set your phone’s volume level at the highest setting, to permit you to hear a conversation against a backdrop of loud noises, whether you happen to be in a shopping mall or while driving your car. Okay, but why not reset that volume level lower when you’re not in a noisy environment? It’s easy enough to do with most phones; just use the “Settings/Sound and Notification/Volume” buttons to change things. Some phones even feature external buttons that let you reset volume levels quite readily.

How loud is “too loud”? Again, that depends. It’s safest to say that you should set the “base volume” on your phone to the lowest level that’s easily audible while you’re in a quiet environment.

In previous postings in this series on “Defensive Listening” (for example,, we provided information on the absolute levels of ambient sounds that could produce hearing losses over time. We suggested that careful readers acquire a sound pressure level (“SPL”) meter in order to determine for themselves what kinds of hazards their own aural environments might pose to their hearing. But with the demise of Radio Shack, inexpensive SPL meters have become harder to find.

But now for the good news: “there’s an app for that!” And better yet, they’re all free.

How can that be? These apps use the microphone in your smart phone to measure SPLs. All you have to do is go the Google Store if you use an Android OS phone, or to the iPhone App Store and choose from among a number of programs. Download and install your choice of app, and start using it to measure the sonic risks you fear may be harmful.

Our only cautionary note is that the results of your measurements MAY understate the levels of sounds at low and high frequencies. The reason for that is the microphones in most phones of all types are adjusted to be most sensitive to those frequencies included in the range covered by the human voice. Male and female voice frequencies typically range from 200 to 5,000 cycles per second, as shown in the chart at the top of this article.

That means that your smartphone’s SPL meter might very well underestimate the volume of low and high frequency sounds. Some of the iPhone SPL meter apps claim to be “professional” instruments, suggesting that they’ve compensated for that problem by adjusting measured SPL levels by frequency range. But who knows if they’ve done so in accordance with your own phone’s calibration?

We’d still recommend using one of these SPL meter tools, since some information is better than none. But then, “play it by ear.” If the sounds you’re measuring seem to include lots of really low bass frequencies, and/or unusually high frequency levels, increase the measured number that your meter reports by at least +3 decibels. That is the LEAST noticeable difference in sound volumes that the human ear can reliably notice. And you may need to add more, if the bass or high frequency range is obviously dominant.

Once you’ve made your determination of SPLs, you then should remember that sustained exposure to SPLs over 80 decibels can damage your hearing, and that even short exposures to SPLs over 100 decibels can do so as well.

Food for Your Ears


Science keeps finding new evidence that if something will help you to live a healthier, longer life, that something is also likely to help protect or even enhance your hearing! And if something hurts health, hearing may suffer, too.

Vitamins for ears. Many vitamins are used to success­fully treat ear conditions: all of the B-complex, especially B1 (thiamine) and niacin (a vasodilator), C, E, and A. Megadoses of all but A can be taken safely as dietary supplements – excepting niacin if you suffer from gout. Glutamic acid may also be an effective nutrient treatment.

Minerals for listeners. Supplementation with RDA levels of zinc, calcium, potassium and magnesium have also been known to help improve ear health.

The brain herb. Ginko biloba can be used to boost hearing, since it encourages the growth of microcapillaries which bring proper nourishment and oxygen to the brain.

Preventing infections. Foods that are believed to help prevent dangerous ear infections include garlic in clove or tablet form, echinacea and goldenseal.

Avoid aspirin…unless you know you aren’t one of those people who risk losing your hearing from using pain killers that contain aspirin. Read labels!

Drug warnings. Antibiotics including dihydrostreptomycin, kanamycin, streptomycin, neomycin, and vancomycin can all cause hearing loss in susceptible people.

Malaria sufferers, beware. If you have malaria, or love gin and tonics, you may risk hearing losses which quinine can cause in vulnerable individuals.

A low-fat diet. Excess fat obstructs blood vessels in the ear and brain. So it’s no surprise that several studies show that those with diets with less than 15% to 30% of calo­ries from fats run less of a risk of hearing loss. One study in Finland showed that a low-fat diet could let fifty-year-olds keep the hearing ability of ten-year-younger high-fat-eaters. For optimal health, particularly avoid saturated fats and all free-radical-rich hydrogenated fats.

Circulatory risks. If you have atherosclerosis or re­lated problems like arthritis, high cholesterol, or diabetes, you’re a hearing risk. You’ll reduce that risk by getting your weight down to where it belongs, getting fit, and maintaining a low-fat, high fiber diet.

Blood tests. You should regularly have your physician check your blood for risks factors like cholesterol or abnormal glucose uptake. It  could save your life by preventing a heart  attack, plus warn you of a hearing loss risk.

Check your body fat. Use your thumb and forefingerto pinch off as thick a roll of fat at your midriff as you can. If you have pinched more than a one-inch-thick roll, your body is carrying a higher percentage of fat than is good for your circulation, and for your hear­ing. Again, a low-fat diet is indicated ’till you can pinch less than a one-inch-thick fat roll.

A proper fat diet. A certain modest level of the right kind of fats are essential for good health. Evening primrose, flax seeds, deep water fish, olives and tree nut oils (not peanuts) are all particularly rich in these Omega 3 and Omega 6 “good fats.” Also useful by the brain: lecithin or choline.

Fitness. If you are fit, your body will be better able to resist, and recover from, some of the environmental destroyers of good hearing like noise. Fitness calls for regu­lar aerobic exercise in which the heart rate is raised to safe but elevated levels for a period of twenty to thirty minutes a day, at least three times a week. If you’re out of shape, see your physician for help in developing a safe schedule of exercise to return you to good condition.

Bad habits. Nicotine and caffeine have unfavorable effects on your hearing’s circulatory and neural support systems. Say goodbye to smoking and high-octane coffee.

Life extension. There is a movement afoot to increase both the length and quality of life using nutrients and relatively new over-the-counter drugs.

We have already mentioned the specific nutrients which studies show to have a beneficial effect on some hearing problems. Many of the new life-extension agents provide their greatest benefit for nervous system tissues (e.g., hydergine, deprenyl), so they should also protect and extend the useful life of our hearing systems. For more information on their use, read any of a number of books on smart drugs, and where to buy them.

How to Beat Ear Whacks!

Never swab

Ear whacks or cerumen (ear wax to you) buildup may be the cause of as much as 40% of the hearing losses that people experience. Heavy ear wax deposits can muffle sound, or cause an echo to your voice, tinnitus, itching, dizziness, ear infections, acute pain, or even the appearance of senility. Here are several techniques you can use to safely manage wax on your own:

Wax blocker, rule one. Don’t wash inside your ear with water, hydrogen peroxide, or glycol, all of which can make ear wax swell even more. 

Wax blocker, rule two. Never clean out your ears with a cotton swab-tipped stick, or any other hard or pointed object. These things are the most common cause of damage to people’s eardrums.

Wax blocker, rule three. Clean your ear canals every day, using a warm shower water rinse. Lubricate them with a gentle swabbing with glycerin on a tissue. 

Wax blocker, rule four. Eat something every day which requires vigorous chewing. The movement of the jaws agitates the ear canal, and this alone can dislodge wax and obstructions.

Wax blocker, rule five. Have a family member or friend inspect your ear canal with an inexpensive otoscope (a small flashlight with an open funnel-shaped probe, sold at drug stores), or even a penlight or flashlight, at least once a week. Have them look for the buildup of brown or black, crusty, hardened wax that has dried against the eardrum. Severe deposits may require professional attention for safe removal.

Defensive Listening 3

Woman in Shiny Black Bondage Gear Turning Up Volume bxp134857h
Turn down the volume!

Dial down. Turn down the volume on your home theater and audio systems, even your telephones and headphones; see if you can move noisy appliances (pencil sharpeners, radios, coffee grinders), or tools and machinery to a more distant work space.

Stifle. Try to work in an area where heavy duty sound control materials are used, including carpeting, drapes, acoustical tile ceilings, and good noise-barrier doors.

Home Sweet Home. Soundproof your house by weather-stripping doors and windows, insulating walls and ceilings, and using double panes of glass in windows facing noise sources – like the street, or your neighbor the drummer.

Air condition. If you use the air conditioner in your car rather than leaving the windows open when you’re driving at the speed limit or above on the freeway or turnpike, this step alone can reduce the noise level in your car by 10 decibels, or even more if you leave the radio off.

Keeping your good hearing calls for more than just protecting the delicate mechanisms in your inner ear from noise. It also calls for good hygiene, and a healthy, youthful brain. Ears feed as many brain cells as your eyes do, with one ten-thousandth of the number of receptor cells!

The More Sound, the Merrier

Speaking as the inventor of Earglasses® Sound Magnifiers, I was recently delighted by the kindness of one our fans. This gentleman, a former loudspeaker designer and audio technician, took the time to carefully measure sound volume differences between using our acoustic lenses, or using nothing at all. Here’s a graph showing his findings:

New gain chart

What’s even more gratifying for me is to note that this is the measured performance for our new model. I was afraid that, because our new model is more compact, and thus less noticeable than our old model, that it would not amplify sound quite as well. Surprise! It’s clear from the graph of the amplification provided by our old model that our new model amplifies significantly more sound. See for yourself:

Old chart

Defensive Listening 2

Bear screamHere are some more tips for things you can do to protect and preserve your hearing ability:

Scream. If you find yourself standing beside a firing jet engine or artillery piece without ear plugs, or any extremely loud sound source, voicing a twenty-second long, escalating scream may cause your strapedius muscle to tighten for a bit of extra protection.

Drive safely. If you wear earplugs to protect your hearing when you drive, just stay alert. Despite state laws against using headphones while driving, statistics show that deaf drivers are safer than the rest of us.

Avoid misuse of “personal electronics.” The abusive volumes sent through headphones and portable music systems caused high frequency hearing loss among a third of the fad-prone new students at the University of Tennessee in 1981.

Set vanity aside. If you’re caught without earplugs when you need them to block noise – say, in a subway or at an airport, forget your self-consciousness and press your hands tightly to your ears. Save yourself!

At worst, double up. If you must attend or perform in a heavy metal rock concert, or face other extremely noisy environments, try wearing both ear plugs and earmuffs.

Work soundly. If you work in an office, cut distractions and the destructive effects of noise: turn your desk to face the wall, and surface the wall with a sound absorbent material like carpet, fabric, or fiberglass insulation material. You’ll have to turn to face visitors, but you will do so without a barrier between you.


Defensive Listening

Eccentric Young Musicians Singing into Microphone bxp140418h
These screaming musicians may be heading for a serious loss of hearing due to damaged hair cells in their inner ear’s cochlea.

There are a number of steps you can take to protect and preserve your hearing. It’s important to put up a good hearing defense. Here’s just a few things you can do to protect yourself against an increasingly noisy world. 

Opera singer? Change jobs! Opera performers generate sound volumes in their heads which are as loud as jet engines heard at close range. As a result, they often suffer deafness as they age. If your job endangers your hearing, either wear ear protection, or quit. The same applies to sports or hobbies: gun lovers, don’t forget to wear ear plugs on the firing range! 

Put your ears on a low noise diet. We recommend avoiding all sounds whose volumes exceed 80 decibels. Physiological stress measurably begins at this loudness level. Living with less noise can provide big health benefits, from less anxiety and lower blood pressures to improved immune response. 

Use earphylactics. Ear plugs and “earmuff” noise-blocker headsets are a must for noise dieters. These devices can cut volume levels of ambient noise by up to 30 db. Don’t try cotton balls or tissue wads; they don’t stop much sound. There are several inexpensive types of ear plugs. You’ll find one or more in most drug stores: disposable models in ear-canal-insertable plastic foam or a waxy “formable canal cover.” Industrial supply shops carry more expensive, washable pre-molded plastic or rubbery shapes – wild mushrooms, lawn lights, pagodas, etc.

Another option: connected pairs and singles. The cords on the back ends of the connected models make them easier to remove, and harder to lose. If you can, buy in quantity from a catalog house like Global Industrial (800-558-9966), where they have a wide selection and low unit prices—as low as 12 cents a pair. But wear whatever model you select for two hours before buying a large lot. The rough surfaces on some models can make them uncomfortable to wear for extended periods.

You can see even see a hearing specialist and have him make impressions of your ear canals; he’ll then be able to order custom plugs which will fit your ear canal perfectly, and that will pass the sounds you hear without frequency distortions.

If you don’t like wearing earplugs, or if you lose them too often, or if you need to be able to put your ear protectors on or take them off in a hurry, try sound-blocking ear muffs instead. These are the kind of protectors you see on the ground crew at airports. They offer between twenty and thirty decibels of sound attenuation, at prices ranging from ten to fifty dollars a unit.

WHAT Problem? Say again?


People with hearing losses are often unaware of, or may even deny, their deficits. So the National Center on Deafness cites these warning signs for risk of hearing loss:

1. A history of ear infections
2. Tinnitus — squeals or ringing in the ears
3. Talking loudly
4. Turning up the TV set’s volume
5. The feeling that talkers too often mumble
6. Frequently complaining that “I can’t hear you”
7. Confusing one word with another with a similar sound
8. Needing to watch a talker’s face and mouth in order to understand what they are saying

White males with a history of exposure to high noise levels (on the job, from concerts or listening to loud music via earbuds, etc.) are also at higher risk. The advice in this blog is critical for those who suffer any of these conditions.

There are some ways to do crude “do-it-yourself” hearing tests. If you have an old “tube style” TV set around, turn it on and let it warm up with the volume turned all the way down. All such sets emit an audible high-frequency squeal which good hearers can hear from several feet away. If you can’t, have a friend come up
from behind you with a ticking watch or clock. See how close it must be to each of your ears before you hear it, then ask a friend with good hearing to take the same test. Compare your “distances to audibility.”

Better yet, have an audiologist give you a professional hearing test. If (1) you experience any of the symptoms noted above, or (2) you can’t pass our do-it-yourself hearing tests, or (3) if you are over fifty, you should have a hearing health professional test your hearing every five years, or annually if you are over sixty. Hearing aid sellers may even give you a quick test, free.

And remember: good hearing aids the chance of having a good life. If your hearing is seriously impaired, face it, and take heart: it’s now possible for even the profoundly deaf to hear. Hearing aids tend to produce satisfaction proportional to investments made in their purchase, and in learning their proper use. Don’t let pride, or an isolationist’s ideology, stand in the way of your ability to communicate with the people who care about you.


Hearing Loss Risk Factors

People with hearing losses are often unaware of, or may even deny, their deficits. So the National Center on Deafness cites these warning signs for risk of hearing loss:

  • A history of ear infections
  • Tinnitus — squeals or ringing in the ears
  • Talking loudly
  • Setting TV volumes to levels that others protest
  • Feeling that talkers often mumble
  • Frequently complaining that “i can’t hear you”
  • Confusing one word with another with a similar sound
  • Needing to watch a speaker’s face to understand their speech

White males with a history of exposure to high noise levels (on the job, from concerts or a Walkman®, etc.) are also at higher risk.

Surprised Young Man Removing Headphones from Ears bxp140412h
Are you a headphone addict? Yes? So is it time to get your hearing checked?

If your workplace or residence exposes you to sustained high noise volumes, test the levels to see how much risk that sound level poses to your hearing. You can buy a used Radio Shack sound level meter for under $30 on eBay, or get a new one for under $70 online. Use one to measure the loudness of noises in your life, so you can find ways to block out the ones that threaten to damage your ears and your hearing.

Basic Training

Dangewr sink(Note: the following article is excerpted from the free booklet “New Secrets of Better Hearing”) The first step in conserving your hearing is to learn more about what may cause you to lose it. You’re doing that already, just by reading this. What else do you need to know, right now?

For one thing, you should learn where noise hazards lie. We all live in a surprisingly a noisy world; the risks are all around us:

  • Standard home toilet flushing: 74 db. – safe
  • Water running in the kitchen sink: 76 db. – safe
  • Frigidaire washing machine: 76 db. – safe
  • A ticket desk at L.A. airport: 77 db. – marginal
  • In a concourse near the airplanes’ gates: 84 db.
  • Takeoff from a runway in a Boeing 757: 100 db.
  • Cruising at 30,000 feet in a B-757: 93 db.
  • Home stereo system at realistic volume: 82 db.
  • Wahl electric hair trimmer: 84 db.
  • Running the shower, shower door closed: 85 db.
  • Sony telephone ringing: 86 db.
  • Hoover upright vacuum cleaner: 88 db.
  • Front door slamming shut: 89 db.
  • Garbage disposal: 91 db.
  • Craftsman® lawnmower, electric chain saw: 95 db.
  • Electric leaf blower: 96 db.
  • In an open-windowed Acura cruising at 65 m.p.h.:
    • with the radio at normal volumes: 100 db.
    • with the radio turned off: 98 db.
    • with the windows rolled up: 90 db.

Moral of the story here? Protect yourself: avoid prolonged
exposures to any sound source not marked “safe.”