With the latest iOS update, the Apple health app can now tell you about the noise levels you’ve been exposed to — both from the environment around you, and from your headphones. Here’s how to set it up, and what to do with that information once you have it.
Hearing is now its own health category, so just open the Health app and tap Browse and then Hearing to see the hearing-related features.
Monitor your headphone audio levels
Tap “headphone audio levels” to see whether you’ve been blasting your eardrums with unnecessarily loud music.
This feature works best with Airpods, but you can ask your phone to estimate volume levels for other headphones too, including wired headphones. To do that, turn on Include Other Headphones under Settings > Privacy > Health > Headphone Audio Levels.
When you view your headphone audio levels from the Health app, you can see hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly views of how much noise your listening habits expose you to. It’s coded according to how much of the volume was at “OK” versus “Loud” levels.
Apple uses sound exposure limits derived from the World Health Organisation recommendations, which combine loudness (measured in A-weighted decibels) with the amount of time you are exposed to the sound (for example, 80 dB is fine for up to 4 hours per week, but 120 dB is only “OK” for a few seconds).
Keep track of the noise around you
Environmental sound levels — the other interesting feature — requires the Apple Watch, series 4 or later. To use this, you’ll need to make sure your phone and watch are both updated to the latest version; then you’ll find a hearing app on your watch called Noise, represented by a yellow icon with a stylised ear.
The Noise app samples the volume level from your watch’s microphone, and Apple says it does not record or save any audio when it does this. You can see your ambient noise levels three ways:
From the Noise watch app itself, which can give a live view of your current noise exposure
From a Noise complication on your watch face, which also gives live, current levels
In the summary on the Health app
The watch will stop measuring noise while you’re using the headphones or speakers, and while the watch is in Water Lock mode. You can also enable alerts for when your environmental noise reaches a certain level.
I tried out the feature but couldn’t get it to tell me my noise exposure was too loud — which is a good sign, I guess. Sitting in a quiet-ish room, noise levels were about 30 dB. When I was talking or typing loudly, levels went up to around 60 dB. I stood by a busy road, and got readings as high as the mid-70s when cars went by. If I had worn the watch while mowing the lawn, or at a loud party, I likely would have seen much higher numbers.
Your noise exposure matters to your long-term hearing health, so these features can help you realise when you might be exposed to noises that are louder than would be healthy for you.