Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Columbia project on hearing loss focuses on the brain

Photo Credit: This U.S. Army graphic is in the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The hearing loss space is attracting investment again after nearly four decades of being starved for funding. New York City’s Columbia University is working on a project that shows us what investors are looking into: the hidden parts of hearing that involve brain circuitry.

The Columbia project, unlike some of the others I’ve discussed before, won’t deliver anything practical for a very long time, but it’s still pretty interesting. Until recently hearing researchers focused on the ear and assumed that was the important part. But it turns out that the wiring between the ear and brain, specifically the regions of the brain involved in hearing, is where the action is now. In part, that’s because there’s been such a surge of federal and private money pouring into brain research over the past decade.

The Columbia research team is looking at how they might train hearing aids to distinguish the voices of specific people—the people you want to hear and nobody else. Right now, that would involve implanting electrodes into your brain–that’s what happens if you get a cochlear implant–but they’re hoping to be able to do this eventually with external devices.

What the researchers are addressing is what’s known as the Lombard Effect, discovered a century ago by the French physician Etienne Lombard, and also known as the “cocktail party effect.” It’s one of the first signs of hearing loss and consists of an inability to understand “speech-in-noise.” Example: you’re in a noisy space like a club or a party, and you’re trying to understand what your companion is saying but you’re unable to do so because of the background noise. Sound familiar? If so, you–like nearly 50 million Americans–have hearing loss.

No, there’s nothing you can do about it. Not yet. So we recommend you follow this Columbia project to see what happens next.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Study urges efforts to prevent noise-induced hearing loss

This image is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Purdue University highlights research done there with the University of Rochester that shows noise-induced hearing loss has worse effects on hearing than hearing loss caused by age-related metabolic loss. Specifically, the researchers found that “noise trauma causes substantially greater changes in neural processing of complex sounds compared with age-related metabolic loss,” which the researchers think may explain why there are “large differences in speech perception commonly seen between people with the same clinically defined degree of hearing loss based on an audiogram.”

According to the CDC, noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. In public health, prevention of disease is almost always better and cheaper than treatment of a disease or condition.  For hearing, natural hearing preserved into old age is much better and much cheaper than costly hearing aids.

So remember: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.  Avoid excessive noise exposure and use hearing protection now, or need hearing aids later.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

It’s that time of the year: How to help your pooch on the 4th

Photo credit: Nancy Nobody from Pexels

Every year around the 4th of July we see a couple of articles on how to help your pet deal with the trauma they suffer during fireworks season. This year the advice is courtesy of the Carroll Count Times, where correspondent Iris Katz dispenses the usual nuggets of useful information:

Owners are advised to slowly inhale and exhale when fireworks and thunder start, play calming music, keep high value treats or toys on within reach to give the dog when thunder starts or a firework goes off and to keep tossing treats and toys. Food puzzle toys, like goody-stuffed Kongs or food dispensing toys, may be pleasant distractions for sound-sensitive dogs.

And every year we report on how fireworks drive dogs, in particular, mad. There’s even a medicine to treat doggy anxiety.

But one thing we in the U.S. don’t often hear is that loud fireworks are unnecessary. Rather, the sound is designed into fireworks displays, and quiet fireworks displays are possible. In fact, some thoughtful towns and cities in Europe and the Galapagos are starting to require quiet fireworks displays to protect pets and wildlife.

Isn’t it time we start doing the same here?

13-year-old proves hand dryers hurt kids’ ears

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Thanks to some noise contacts, I was aware of this study that appeared in the official publication of the Canadian Paedriatic Society, but I hadn’t written a blog post because the article is behind a pay wall. But now thanks to the New York Times, everyone can learn about this fascinating study done by 13-year-old Nora Keegan.

Keegan spent more than a year taking sound measurements in hundreds of public restrooms to prove that the noisy hand dryers that she and other children complained about to their parents were, in fact, dangerously loud. Uncertain with how the hand dryer companies determined their decibel ratings, Keegan tested them at varying heights, including childrens’ heights. After getting a bronze, then a gold, in school science fairs with her earlier studies, Keegan was encouraged to write a paper about her findings. And she did. Click the second link to learn more about how she conducted her study.

I was delighted to read about Keegan’s interest and dedication to her study, particularly since her research confirms what I have been saying for some time now: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Discovery of sound in the sea

Photo credit: joakant from Pixabay

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My father taught me that humans try to put a rational veneer on life but much of what actually happens is random.  As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the aleatory element in life. And that’s how I learned about this wonderful site Discovery of Sound in the Sea.

I will have an article in the Fall 2019 issue of Acoustics Today, a publication of the Acoustical Society of America. In one of our email exchanges, the magazine’s editor, Dr. Arthur Popper, mentioned that he serves on the Advisory Board for Discovery of Sound in the Sea (DOSITS) and had recently attended a meeting at its Kingston, Rhode Island headquarters.

I hadn’t heard of DOSITS–my noise interest is the adverse effects of noise on human health and function–but it looks like a wonderful site.

So now you know about it, too, and care share in my serendipity.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Noise can adversely affect human health

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When a prominent public health leader like UCLA’s Jonathan Fielding, MD MPH MA MBA summarizes the adverse impacts of noise on health and quality of life, it appears that noise is finally getting the attention it deserves.

My only quibble with what Dr. Fielding wrote is that he states, “a few hours of exposure to 85 decibels noises will likely damage your hearing.” The World Health Organization actually recommends only one hour of exposure to 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA)* to prevent hearing loss. That’s because the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for 24 hours, and after one hour at 85 dBA it’s impossible to average 70 dB for the day.

Let’s hope that those in Congress and government offices in Washington, and at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, heed Dr. Fielding’s call for government action to make America quieter.

*A-weighting measures the frequencies heard in human speech.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Restaurant noise? For the hearing impaired, that’s discrimination

Photo credit: Dmitry Zvolskiy from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Citing noise as discrimination, Joyce Cohen, writing for the Washington Post, goes after the restaurant industry. I’m grateful that Ms. Cohen relied on The Quiet Coalition Chair, Dr. Daniel Fink, in this terrific piece, and that she did her homework to get the facts straight.

I hope this kind of reporting will lead to changes in the restaurant industry, which, thanks to Yelp and Zagat and restaurant reviewers at newspapers like the Washington Post, are showing that noise is the number one complaint of restaurant goers. Let’s hope that restaurant owners are finally waking up to the fact that too much noise is actually bad for business.

And congratulations to the Washington Post for taking on this industry and it’s egregious practices! This article has certainly opened up the conversation about restaurant noise and disability.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

More news about restaurant noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece in Modern Restaurant Management discusses potential solutions to the restaurant noise problem.  It also includes information from Zagat that too much noise is now the leading complaint of restaurant patrons, beating out poor service by one percentage point.

The author works for a company providing sound absorbing products, so those are what he focuses on, but the simplest solution to restaurant noise costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified sound.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.