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Apple Watch Noise app: Everything you need to know

This new WatchOS app hopes to help prevent gradual hearing loss.

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Sarah Mitroff/CNET

With the newest Apple Watch update, WatchOS 6, Apple's smart watch gains a new feature: The Noise app. This new app measures the ambient noise levels of whatever environment you're in and warns you if the sound around you is loud enough to cause hearing loss. 

The Noise app is the latest addition to Apple's suite of health tech features, following the EKG feature for the Apple Watch series 4 in 2018. For this year, the Apple Watch and iPhones also gained the ability to track menstrual cycles and fertility.

Here's everything you need to know about Apple's Noise app.

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What is Apple's Noise app?

Available only for the Apple Watch, the Noise app detects loud sounds in your environment and notifies you when it thinks you may be at risk for hearing damage.

The app uses the watch's built-in microphone to measure the decibel level at concerts, theaters, parades, construction zones and other loud situations that generally aren't good for your ears. 

When you open the Noise app, you'll see a real-time measurement of the sound around you in decibels. You'll also see a short message letting you know if the sound levels are "OK" or "Loud."

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Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Between zero and 80 decibels, sound isn't loud enough to cause hearing loss. But above 80 decibels, sound can cause long-term hearing damage, depending on how loud it is and how long your ears are exposed to it.

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Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Within the Noise app on your Watch, you can read short descriptions of how many minutes each day you can safely listen to sounds that are 80, 85, 90, 95 and 100 decibels.

In the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, you can configure your Watch to notify you when the ambient noise is above a certain threshold, between 80 to 100 decibels.

While Apple says they do not record or save anything the Noise app picks up, if you're concerned about privacy, you can disable the Noise app from the Apple Watch app.

How does hearing loss happen?

There are three types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive (interferes with the way sound waves travel through the ear)
  • Sensorineural (results from damage to the ear or nerves within the ear)
  • Mixed (combination of the two) 

Common causes of hearing loss include damage to the inner ear; buildup of earwax, dirt or other substances; ear infections and ruptured eardrums. Exposure to loud environments can exacerbate hearing loss, and Apple built the Noise app to help limit your exposure.

How does the Noise app prevent hearing loss?

The big problem with hearing loss is that most of the time, it happens gradually. Most people don't notice subtle changes to their hearing until it becomes significantly more difficult to hear, such as having trouble hearing during a conversation when you're right next to someone. Often, people only seek treatment when they notice changes like that, and at that point, the damage has been done.

The Noise app is proactive versus reactive: Instead of just hoping hearing loss doesn't happen to you, you can take care to monitor the environments you're in and prevent hearing loss from happening in the first place.

For example, if you're at a football game and Noise pings you, you can grab some protective earplugs. As the sound levels change, so does the decibel meter, so you get an accurate picture of what's going on. And you can always take the ear plugs out if and when the decibel level goes down.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.