Silencity

The Truth About Noise

Latest Posts

Should doctors screen middle-aged and older adults for hearing loss?

Photo credit: Flávia Costa licensed under CC BY 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition received an email from contacts at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is again looking at whether it should recommend screening for hearing loss. The last time it did this, USPSTF didn’t recommend screening for hearing loss in adults because no benefit had been shown from screening. The email reads:

Dear Hearing and Health Partners,

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has shared their Draft Research Plan for Hearing Loss in Older Adults: Screening on their website here. The draft plan also includes a graphic of a Proposed Analytic Framework and a Proposed Research Approach to identify the study characteristics and criteria that the Evidence-based Practice Center will use to search for publications for their evidence review.

According to the Task Force, The final Research Plan will be used to guide a systematic review of the evidence by researchers at an Evidence-based Practice Center. The resulting Evidence Review will form the basis of the Task Force Recommendation Statement on this topic. There is an opportunity for public comment on this draft until December 12, 2018. The draft research plan is available on the Task Force’s website here.

Cordially,

NCEH Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Program

There is important new research available that led to the USPSTF re-evaluating its recommendation. Several researchers have shown that most Americans get too much noise every day. The CDC reported that about 25% of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, many without occupational noise exposure, and many thinking that their hearing was excellent.

Also, newer research shows that hearing loss is not a benign condition. It is correlated in stepwise fashion (i.e., more hearing loss, more problems) with social isolation, depression, falls, accidents, and dementia, all of which in turn are associated with increased mortality in older Americans.

And even more recent research shows that providing older people with hearing aids delays the onset of dementia, all of which compels the conclusion that doctors should absolutely screen their middle-aged and above patients for hearing loss.

If you have any thoughts about screening for hearing loss, send a comment to the USPSTF. I will!

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.

Sounds that soothe in life and near death

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

My research and writings have focused on the effects of noise on mental and physical health. If we are to lessen the adverse impacts of noise on hearing and well-being it would be wise to start by educating children to the dangers of noise. But what about the wonderful sounds around us that we want children to tune into? Shouldn’t we also teach children about the “good” sounds as well as the “bad ones,” named noises?

It was with these thoughts in mind that my children’s book “Listen to the Raindrops” was written and beautifully illustrated by Steven Parton. The title draws children to sounds that are pleasant, as do the lines within the book. But the book also describes the bad sounds that might hurt the delicate ear. The book ends by asking moms, dads, girls, and boys to join together to stop the noise, so that we can forever hear the raindrops fall.

Environmental sounds such as birds singing, breezes, and waves hitting the shore are sounds that individuals seek out to feel relaxed. Quiet areas within cities are being identified by researchers such as Dr. Antonella Radicchi, who believe such areas will be sought out and protected by people who look to these “urban oases” of quiet so that they can listen to the natural sounds they enjoy to hear. She also conducts soundwalks through these areas.

Thus, it was my background in trying to protect our natural sounds and to lessen the din in our environment that drew me to the New York Times piece “In Life’s Last Moments, Open the Window.” Rachel Clarke, a British physician, wrote the article to describe how much comfort patients close to the end of life get from the “sheer vitality” of nature. Dr. Clarke learned that a blackbird’s song can’t stop disease but it can offer comfort. In life I long knew that natural sounds bring us contentment, but after reading this article I now know that near death we seek the peace these sounds bring to us.

But just as we are fighting the intrusion of noises that are robbing us of our ability to tune into natural sounds, I fear that these same noises will rob us of the comfort of these natural sounds as we lay dying. How many urban hospitals can open up windows to allow the gentle breezes and the chirping birds to be heard? I would hope that Dr. Clarke’s article reaches the attention of architects and designers who may be able to bring small gardens to urban hospitals and to public officials who will use their offices to lessen overall outdoor noises so that these will not drown out the natural sounds so desired by those hoping to open a window as they lie in bed facing the end of life.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Will technology bring us a quieter world?

This image is in the public domain.

by Neil Donnenfeld

New technology is going to enhance our ability to have a quieter world. The future is looking brighter and quieter!!

There is a fundamental business concept that if you can measure something you can get control of it and do something about it. The health literature sets clear limits on noise levels that are acceptable and those that lead to illness. Now, as seen in this article, it is getting easier and easier to make on the spot sound readings and to immediately determine if acceptable noise limits are being breached. We no longer need be silent in our desire to have a quieter world as we can point out objective data.

The next step is to require enforcement by government to protect those that would do us harm. This test currently under way in Edmonton is the most comprehensive and encouraging example I have seen. If you can’t stand the quiet, prepare to get measured and ticketed. The future of noise enforcement is coming.

Neil D. Donnenfeld is the President of Products Ahead, LLC, which develops and markets consumer packaged goods that provide real benefits to consumers with unmet needs. A former brand manager at Procter and Gamble, he evolved into an entrepreneurial executive and eventually became CEO at Advanced Vision Research, makers of TheraTears(R), from its start-up to its sale to a publicly traded company. Neil developed hyperacusis as a result of proton beam radiation to treat an acoustic neuroma, a rare, benign brain tumor that develops on the acoustic nerve. As a result, he has become a noise activist and is committed to helping create a quieter, more civil world. He also serves on many not for profit boards including President of the Jewish Journal, Vice Commodore of The Swampscott Yacht Club, and Vice President of Acoustic Neuroma Association.

 

 

Tinnitus and what to do about it

Photo credit: erik forsberg licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I think the title of this report from the Harvard Medical School is misleading. I have tinnitus so part of my response is a personal one. To me, the most important sentence in the report is this: “There are no FDA approved treatments for tinnitus.” That means that none of the many proposed treatments for tinnitus–from a variety of vitamins and drugs, to various auditory training programs–has been demonstrated to be safe and effective, the FDA’s standard for approval. Cognitive behavior therapy may improve the ability to accept or deal with a constant ringing in the ears, but it doesn’t change the underlying symptoms.

It can be difficult to live with a constant ringing in the ears. I haven’t tried any of these unapproved treatments because I believe in evidence-based medicine, both for patients and for myself. Also, I am fortunate–my tinnitus is relatively low volume, and the only time it really bothers me is when I wake at night and it’s loud enough to cause difficulty in falling back to sleep–but the symptoms can be so bad that people commit suicide because of them. I suppose that if my symptoms were worse, I might be willing to try some of the treatments mentioned. And I would add that I know people who have had success using some of them.

Perhaps most significantly, the report neglects to mention three important facts:

1. The overwhelming cause of tinnitus is noise exposure, not the many other possible causes listed in the report. I haven’t been able to find a percentage, but my estimate is at least 80% and probably 90 or 95%.

2. The article implies that temporary tinnitus after noise exposure is a normal thing. No, temporary tinnitus indicates that one has been exposed to too loud noise, and that auditory damage has occurred.

3. Avoiding loud noise exposure will most likely prevent tinnitus from ever developing.

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.

World’s worst restaurant concept?

We are going with yes, and we couldn’t care less about the food. Why? Because the owners of the Noisy Cafe have foisted on the world one of the worst “one-of-its-kind” concepts ever: they actively encourage patrons “to create meaningless noise.” It is really that awful?  Well, Prutha Bhosle, the poor soul tasked with reviewing the restaurant for Midday.com writes:

A surprise awaited us when the bill arrived. The steward brought along a sound meter. And then came the bizarre request – laugh out loud into the device to win a discount.

After hitting 119 dB (decible) with a pretend laugh, we were given a discount of nine per cent on the total bill. A customer who crosses the 110 dB mark, gets a concession. Stupid? We think so too.

 

Better hearing and sight can help keep memory sharper

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report describes studies showing that giving hard of hearing older patients hearing aids reduced memory loss, as did cataract surgery in another study. It makes sense that more sensory input keeps the brain connections active. There are a number of studies with similar results.

As I get older, I’m intrigued by aging. People of the same chronological age can have dramatically different health profiles, activity levels, and intellectual capabilities. Why? Certainly genetics plays a role, as does diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol intake, and many factors not yet understood. Yet despite our best efforts, we all eventually die. I think the goal should be compression of morbidity, that is, living full and active lives until one gets sick and dies relatively quickly.

That we have treatment of medical problems is great, but prevention is better. This applies to hearing and vision, too.

Avoiding loud noise prevents noise-induced hearing loss, the most common cause of hearing loss in the U.S. and probably in the developed world. There’s some evidence that what is called age-related hearing loss is really noise-induced hearing loss. And cataracts can largely be prevented by avoiding sun exposure and wearing sunglasses when outside.

But there’s no excitement in prevention, and little if any profit to be made for pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and hospitals. So the obviously better option–preventing damage to sight and hearing in the first place–is given short shrift.

Until prevention prevails, make sure your elderly relatives have their hearing and sight checked–hearing aids and cataract surgery might help prevent dementia.

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.

Don’t use headphones while running

Photo credit: Peter van der Sluijs licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

NPR host Peter Sagal, author of “The Incomplete Book of Running,” makes his case against running with headphones. Sagal talks about how he always used to train and run races wearing headphones but gradually stopped wearing them.

There is support for Sagal’s sound evidence. Too many people turn up the volume enough to drown out ambient noise, which usually means the volume is high enough to damage hearing. I have been unable to find any published evidence that music helps improver performance, except, perhaps, in rhythmic activities.

I don’t run anymore–my orthopedic surgeon said I had grade III microtears and would need a knee replacement if I did–but I walk early almost every morning. I don’t listen to music as I walk because I walk in the street, so I need to listen for cars. But as the sun rises, I hear the birds and the squirrels, reminding me of nature in the city.

And before the sun rises, before the birds start to welcome the day, I just luxuriate in the quiet and my own thoughts.

You might try that, too.

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.

Open plan offices, what are they good for?

Photo credit: K2 Space licensed under CC BY 2.0

Absolutely nothing. And so the collaboration lie falls, as research by two Harvard student researchers shows that “although companies are increasingly calling for barriers in the workplace to be removed, staff are less likely to speak to fellow employees when they can constantly see them.”

You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from technology writer Markham Heid discusses noise pollution. Heid writes about the work of noted researcher Thomas Münzel, MD, who’s 2018 study shows “the ties between loud noise and heart failure, heart attack, and stroke — as well as noise’s negative impact on a person’s sleep and cognitive performance.”

Münzel, Heid writes, asserts that noise that is “about 70 decibels — roughly the noise generated by a passing car — could be considered ‘unhealthy noise,’ because it can disturb sleep, and poor sleep is a risk factor for health issues ranging from heart disease to obesity to diabetes.” Münzel explains that the problem with noise when you are sleeping is that “[y]ou can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.”

And that’s why noise pollution makes us sick, causing hearing loss and the non-auditory health effects on the heart and damaging our mental health.

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.

London’s Heathrow boosts quiet electric aircraft

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

Insiders say the next big wave of disruptive innovation in commercial aircraft will be quiet, electric engines. In fact, Airbus says they can deliver by the early 2020s. And London’s Heathrow airport has added it’s own $1 million prize to accelerate the race, offering free landing charges for a year to UK’s first electric plane.

Can we get some of those quiet jets in the U.S. too, please? But hurry up, because global air traffic is expected to double in the next 15 years. So if you think it’s noisy out there now, imagine the din with twice as many flights overhead. Clearly something needs to happen quick.

In fact, electrically-powered aircraft are already here (we’ve written about this here). So the experts are serious and aircraft manufacturers, airlines, and regulatory authorities acknowledge that this really will be a major disruption. There are currently between 15 and 100 projects (depending on what you’re counting) underway worldwide on the development of commercial scale electrically-powered airplanes.

So with America’s aerospace leaders (e.g., Boeing and GE) dragging their feet on this, it looks like we’re handing Airbus and others a big win.

Perhaps some of America’s biggest airports should look closely at Heathrow and think about getting into this prize game too. Something needs to be done to wake up America’s air transportation industry that BOTH noise and fuel efficiency matter to their customers and their neighbors. If they don’t change soon foreign suppliers like Airbus will walk away with the business.

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.