Noisy Encounters: ProMedica ENT Specialist Creates Noise Apps

Aaron G. Benson, MD, an otolaryngologist and neurotologist with ProMedica Physicians Ear, Nose and Throat, approaches medicine with a creative and innovative mind. He recently developed two noise-based mobile applications, both inspired by real patients’ needs and concerns: NoiseMonitor and NoiseLock.

The apps utilize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations for noise exposure. A safe decibel encounter is anything ranging from 1-89. The human ear can be exposed to 90 decibels of sound for eight hours, explains Dr. Benson. However, as the sound level goes up, we can be exposed to it for less time. For example, a person can be exposed to 95 decibels of sound for four hours and 100 decibels of sound for two hours before hearing may be impaired.

Keeping OSHA standards in mind, NoiseMonitor allows patients to check their decibel exposure at work and home, in the car, and anywhere else they may go throughout the day. And NoiseLock helps parents and individuals keep their volumes in check as they listen to music or stream videos on their phone or tablet.

NoiseMonitor: An Educational Tool

Dr. Benson is always educating his patients about sound and the different environments in which hearing may be compromised. Generally, people understand that firing ranges, concerts and sporting events are places they may need to wear ear protection.

“Less obvious environments are if they work in a factory, mow the lawn, use a weed whacker, or travel by plane,” Dr. Benson says. “Many understand that shooting a gun next your ear is bad, but very few realize that running a lawnmower engine is damaging.”

NoiseMonitor looks like an EKG or holter monitor, and shows users how many decibels of sound they are encountering at any time throughout the day. Reaching 100 decibels or above demonstrates a damaging level. There is a log and save option for patients to keep track of their noise exposure levels and later share with their doctor.

“Since I don’t know what everybody’s environments are, this application empowers patients to monitor sound on their own,” Dr. Benson says. “It has given me the ability to help patients outside of the office.”

NoiseLock: Protecting Your Family’s Hearing

As a parent, you have to pick your battles. Dr. Benson designed a second app, NoiseLock, to help keep the peace between parents and their music-loving children.

“Many patients asked me the same question, ‘Can you please tell my son or daughter not to listen to the iPod too loud?’” says Dr. Benson. “This inspired me to create something so children and individuals can’t listen to a device in a way where it’s damaging.”

NoiseLock ensures a parent can protect their child’s ears from excess sound during the day. NoiseLock is password protected and when enabled, allows the parent to set the noise thresholds. A reminder is sent when the decibel level has been reached, and the device is either turned off or sent back to a safe volume level.

“This takes the decision making away from the individual and is intended to be more protective,” says Dr. Benson.

Planting the Seeds of Innovation

ProMedica physicians and employees are taking the next step with their ideas by submitting disclosures to the newly formed ProMedica Innovations (Pi)—part of the Cleveland Clinic Innovation Alliance. Pi features a product development fund to help innovators with developing prototypes and building out companies. Dr. Benson is one of seven ProMedica employees currently in the process of seeing his ideas become commercialized.

NoiseLock, especially, has a lot of application,” Dr. Benson says. “I’d love to see it in automobiles and in all handheld devices. We all expose ourselves to far more noise than we appreciate, and sometimes we take for granted how valuable our hearing really is.”

Update Sept. 17, 2014: Noise Monitor is now available in the iTunes Store. You can download it here.