Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Despite complaints, restaurant noise continues unabated

by Daniel Fink, MD

Ever since I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis from a one-time exposure to loud restaurant noise, I have been looking for a quiet restaurant (see the Acknowledgements section at the end of my editorial in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, “What Is a Safe Noise Level for the Public?“).

It turns out I’m not the only one complaining about restaurant noise.

Restaurant noise is the number one complaint of diners in New York, San Francisco, Portland OR, and Boston.  In fact, the Boston Globe just recently wrote about diners’ dislike of restaurant noise in a piece titled, “Listen up: Restaurants are too loud!

Restaurant owners may think that noise increases food and beverage sales, and decreases time spent at the table, and they are right.  But what they cannot measure is how many meals are lost because people like me don’t go to noisy restaurants with family or friends, choosing to dine at home, instead, where we can converse as we enjoy our meal. Perhaps restauranteurs should consider that we middle-aged folks are more likely to spend money in restaurants than other demographic groups.  After all, for many of us our kids are done with college, our mortgages are paid off, we’ve been saving for retirement, and we have the disposable income to enjoy a nice meal out more frequently than in our youth.  If there were quieter restaurants, we might dine out more often instead of avoiding them because we would rather not have a side of hearing loss with our steak frites.

I guess that as long as the restaurants are busy, they will stay noisy. But if enough of us speak up–in the restaurants and to our elected representatives, asking them to pass laws requiring some limits on indoor noise–restaurants will eventually get quieter.

Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Accommodation for autistic customers gaining steam in the UK

Photo Credit: Clive Darra

Tesco trialling a ‘quiet hour’ to help autistic customers do their shopping. Maya Oppenheim and Katie Forster, The Independent, write about Tesco’s pilot scheme, which it is trialing at one of its locations for six weeks on Saturday mornings. If the trial is successful, the quiet hour will be rolled out across Tesco stores nationwide.  What will Tesco be doing to make the shopping experience more tolerable for autistic customers? “The trial includes a wide range of measures to improve the browsing and paying experience for autistic customers such as dimmed lights and quieter tannoys [loudspeaker systems].”

Tesco is the largest grocery chain in the UK, and it also has stores in 12 countries across Asia and Europe. If the pilot scheme is successful and Tesco implements a quiet hour on a larger scale, this could be a significant victory for autistic and noise sensitive people.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

University of Kansas “wins” title for loudest crowd roar at an indoor sports arena

by Daniel Fink, MD

Maybe one day the Guinness Book of World Records will have a category for the most people sustaining auditory damage at one time at an indoor sports event? Because that’s what happened in Lawrence, Kansas, at the University of Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse on February 13, 2017. A new world record was set for indoor noise at a sports event: 130.4 decibels. The previous “winner,” the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, set a record of 126.4 decibels just two weeks earlier.

It was a great game, undoubtedly sold out. Kansas won in overtime, coming back from a 67-60 deficit with 1:13 to play in regulation to tie the game, and then won in overtime. The few disheartened fans who left early missed the conclusion of a one of the season’s best basketball games. Famed Kansas coach Bill Self called it “the most remarkable win I’ve ever been a part of.” But his ears, the players’ ears, the ears of team and fieldhouse staff, and those of the capacity crowd of 16,300, undoubtedly also suffered permanent auditory damage. That’s because 130.4 decibels is about as loud as a four-engine jet plane from 100 feet away, but the auditory injury threshold (the point at which a hearing injury may occur) is only 75 to 78 decibels.

Maybe one day the NCAA, which touts “Student-Athlete Well-Being” as one of its core principles, will show some concern for the auditory health of its student-athletes and ban this type of silly and dangerous competition at NCAA events.

But if not, then how about a contest to see how many NCAA student athletes and sports event attendees can be blinded at one time by the host NCAA institution shining powerful laser lights into the stands and team benches at the sports arena?  Hey, a world record is a world record, right?

Or maybe reason will prevail and the people who have the power to stop this senseless and dangerous contest will come to their senses?  They can’t say that they didn’t have notice, because my letter to the editor of The Kansas City Star was published on Monday, February 20th.  Your move, NCAA.

Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

This sounds like clickbait but it isn’t:

Try this one trick to hear people better at parties. And the trick is?  “People in noisy situations should face slightly away from the person they’re listening to and turn one ear towards the speech.”  A new study, funded by UK charity Action on Hearing Loss, finds this technique is a particularly helpful listening tactic for cochlear implant users, and is “compatible with lip-reading, which was unaffected by a modest, 30-degree head orientation.”

Click the link above to learn more about why this technique works and to watch the video at the bottom of the webpage on binaural audio (or how to record sound so it sounds like it does in your head).

 

In a followup to his post on looking for a quiet car,

Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, has written a post about disturbing noises automobile manufacturers purposefully add to their cars: There’s More To Car Noise Than Interior Sound. Dr. Fink’s second post was prompted by a reader who noted that while “[d]esign of the quietest interior possible has become highly competitive,” little thought is given to “the effect that automotive lock, locating, and security technology have on the residential soundscape.”  Simply put, automobile manufacturers have adopted sound as a default to confirm a car door is locked or to locate a car in a parking lot without thinking about the effect of adding all of these audible honks and beeps and warnings to an already noisy soundscape.

Fortunately, there are some steps car owners can take to disable or modify the audible alerts, but not without difficultly.  Click the link above to get Dr. Fink’s list of questions to ask about audible alerts before buying a car.

Red wine and dark chocolate can protect against hearing loss?

Sign me up! Ok, a red wine and dark chocolate diet may sound pretty fabulous, but obviously one cannot embrace it as a way of life no matter how concerned you are about your hearing. And, in any event, Debbie Clason’s post at Healthy Hearing adds that while “a glass or two of red wine can guard against the type of inflammation that causes [noise-induced hearing loss], excessive drinking deposits toxic levels of alcohol in your bloodstream which can permanently damage your hearing.” As for the protective benefits of dark chocolate, it’s not the chocolate in dark chocolate that protects hearing.  Rather, chocolate “contains zinc, which is known for boosting the immune system and guarding against infections that plague the ear.”

So, as with most other things, enjoy some red wine and dark chocolate in moderation.  And who knows?  It may actually help to protect your hearing.

Click the first link above to learn more about inflammation, hearing loss, and how “[h]ealthy eating and exercise habits, combined with reducing exposure to excessive environmental and occupational noise, can help preserve hearing acuity into old age.”

We know open plan offices are an office worker’s nightmare, so what can we do about it?

David Sykes, vice chair of The Quiet Coalition, gives us a solution in his post about office noise and how to fix it. He writes about being part of a group that worked “with the largest provider of workplaces for office workers in America, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).” Sykes states:

GSA houses over 1,000,000 federal office workers in 2,200 communities across the nation, and they survey those office workers regularly about their working conditions. Consequently, if office workers are miserable and distracted, GSA knows about it. Based on over 20,000 survey responses, they learned that noise and lack of privacy were office workers’ biggest complaints.

Importantly, the GSA did something about it.  Namely, it commissioned “Sound Matters,” a guide that helps to address the “open landscape dilemma.”  Sykes adds that Harvard’s School of Public Health has started a research program called “Buildingomics” to understand the impact of “Indoor Environmental Quality” on office workers’ health and performance.

To learn how these resources can help you address workplace noise and distraction, click the first link for the full post.

Yet another article about the failure that is the open plan office:

Why Open Plan Offices Are Bad For Us. Bryan Borzykowski, BBC.com, examines the modern office worker’s nemesis, the open plan office. Borzykowski introduces us to Chris Nagele, a tech executive who adopted an open plan space because he thought it would encourage collaboration among his team members. But Nagele soon discovered that he made a huge mistake. Instead of a free exchange of creative ideas, Nagele found that everyone was distracted, productivity suffered, and his employees were unhappy, as was he.  And he wasn’t alone.

Borzykowski reports:

Professors at the University of Sydney found that nearly 50% of people with a completely open office floorplan, and nearly 60% of people in cubicles with low walls, are dissatisfied with their sound privacy. Only 16% of people in private offices said the same.

Sound privacy means noise.  Your neighbor’s phone call is noise to you, and your call is noise to him or her.  And in an open office, it’s possible to have lots of neighbors. No surprise then that in the U.S., where about 70% of offices are open concept, there is a growing backlash against them.  And there is research that backs up employees’ complaints.  Specifically, “that we’re 15% less productive, we have immense trouble concentrating and we’re twice as likely to get sick in open working spaces.”  That is, the reason employees hate open plan offices isn’t just a loss of status and exposure to a litany of minor nuisances. Rather, “we can’t multitask and small distractions can cause us to lose focus for upwards of 20 minutes.” That is, we can’t do our work.

In the end, the stated motivation for adopting open plan offices–to encourage collaboration–is a lie.  Many companies claim that motivation when the bottom line is that open plan offices are cheaper.  But even if encouraging collaboration really is the motivation, Borzykowski tells us that “we don’t collaborate like we think.”  Instead, he writes:

[I]t’s well documented that we rarely brainstorm brilliant ideas when we’re just shooting the breeze in a crowd. Instead, as many of us know, we’re more likely to hear about the Christmas gift a colleague is buying for a family member, or problems with your deskmate’s spouse.

So, what to do?  The obvious choice is to ditch the open plan office, but that isn’t easy to do after significant funds have been spent on a new space.  When the floor plan cannot be changed, some sort of accommodation should be made, particularly for jobs that require focus, like writing or coding.  Borzykowski reports that some companies “are experimenting with quiet rooms and closed spaces,” while others place sensors around the workspace to track noise, temperature, and population levels, allowing staff to “log on to an app [to] find the quietest spot in the room.”  Or maybe companies should bite the bullet?  According to Chris Nagele, leaving the open plan office behind resulted in his employees being happier and more productive.

Have a friend or family member who is showing signs of hearing loss?

In “Hearing loss: Listening to the signs,” Treva Lind, The Spokesman Review, writes about the 37.5 million Americans who have some degree of hearing loss, focusing on the baby boomers who are 20 to 25% of that population.  Lind states that “[t]he American Speech-Language Hearing Association recommends that people age 50 and older have a hearing test every three years.”  She sits in on a hearing exam for 67-year-old Dale Fowler, who came to the University Hearing and Speech Clinic in Spokane, Washington to see if he needed a hearing aid, a visit scheduled at the urging of family members.  Fowler’s exam revealed that he “had some minor hearing loss at high frequencies in one ear, but it wasn’t enough to warrant a hearing aid.”  Fowler’s audiologist, Barbara Peregoy, said that his result was “common among baby boomers.”

Peregoy said that baby boomers often fall into a “gray area,” where they don’t yet need hearing aids but still have some minor hearing loss.  She then explained why people who need hearing aids don’t get them right away (cost, denial, vanity, or fear of appearing older) and the consequences of not addressing hearing loss, noting that hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia.  As for her patient Dale Fowler, although he left without a hearing aid, he did not leave empty-handed–Peregoy handed him a list of good communication skills to help him deal with his minor hearing loss.

Click the link above to read the whole piece, including Barbara Peregoy’s “Ten commandments for good communication skills.”