Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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AARP focuses on musicians and hearing loss

Photo credit: Alex G licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Noise-induced hearing loss afflicts people of all ages, but since it’s cumulative and incurable, the greatest burden falls on older people who have incessantly exposed themselves to loud noise in their careers and due to recreational choices. Such is the case with many stars in music and entertainment. AARP recently reviewed research from Germany that analyzed the heath insurance records of 7 million people from 2004 to 2008 and found that “working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than those in any other profession”…. and they were “57% more likely to have tinnitus brought on by their work.”

Hearing Health magazine also recently reported on this and included a list of a dozen well-known performers who’ve given up music due to hearing loss.

So if you’re wondering why some of your favorite rock stars aren’t touring any more, it’s possible they simply can’t hear what they’re performing. Sure, everybody knows classical composer Ludwig von Beethoven wrote—and even conducted–some his finest work after he was completely deaf. But if you’ve read about him, you would also know how profoundly unhappy he was about it.

Our ability to hear isn’t self-repairing–once you’ve blown your ears, they’re gone for good. So it’s good news that AARP seems to be awakening to the problem of noise-induced hearing loss. They’re big and powerful enough to get things done in Washington DC, where the health effects of exposure to loud sound was swept under the rug nearly 40 years ago. It’s definitely time for AARP to pay attention!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Why are spin classes so loud (and does it matter)?

Photo credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Why are spin classes so loud? This post on The Cut doesn’t really answer that question, but it does a nice job of explaining the dangers of excessive noise for auditory health.

A few years ago I had email exchanges with two researchers who study the effects of noise on athletic performance. Music with a specific beat can help rhythmic activities, like running or spinning at a constant pace, but despite common belief there is no evidence that loud music makes anyone run faster or lift more weight, or in this case spin faster.

Even if music does improve performance–or people think it improves their performance–those theoretical advantages are outweighed by almost certain auditory damage, including hearing loss and tinnitus.

I’m glad the author of this piece had a best friend who became an audiologist and educated her about the dangers of noise. Because if the noise in your spin class–or any exercise class, or really anywhere at all–sounds too loud, it is too loud.

And if the noise is loud enough to be painful, it’s dangerous for your ears. Period.

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.

Sarasota restaurants are getting louder, too

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is a major problem for diners, now being the leading complaint in the latest Zagat restaurant survey. And this article from Sarasota Magazine says it’s a problem there, too.

The writer makes the common error citing the 85 decibel occupational noise exposure limit as the sound level at which auditory damage begins, noting restaurant noise levels of 92 decibels at one popular restaurant. Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise level to prevent hearing loss.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of exposure at 85 A-weighted decibels* to prevent hearing loss. And a typical restaurant meal lasts 90-120 minutes, depending on the speed of the service, the dining choices, and whether one lingers beforehand over drinks or afterwards for coffee and dessert. So all diners at the restaurant were at risk of hearing loss.

Is this a real problem? Yes! In 2017 the CDC reported that 24% of American adults had noise-induced hearing loss, most without significant occupational noise exposure.

Choosing a quieter restaurant, as an economist friend suggested, isn’t a realistic option. In most cities, there are few if any quiet restaurants, and a less noisy one is the only option if one wants to eat a restaurant meal.

It’s clear that restaurant noise is an example of market failure, and that regulator action is needed to protect diners’ auditory health.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements to reflect 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.

6 in 10 workers complain about workplace distraction

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

And what are the biggest culprits?  No surprise: noisy talkers, loud recreation, and open concept offices.

The article linked above references a study that was conducted in Canada, but there’s no reason to suspect that the experience of U.S. workers is any different.  In the end, any savings in real estate expense must be outweighed by lost productivity due to noisy, distracting environments.

But is the productivity loss measureable? If yes, is it significant?

Yes and yes. According to a survey by coworking company iQ Offices, fighting distractions leads to “up to two hours per day of lost productivity.”

Two hours per day per employee.  It adds up.

 

Nature’s sounds calm urban anxiety

Photo credit: Gabriela Palai from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this personal essay, printed in the Washington Post, writer Paige Towers discusses how New York City’s noise worsened her anxiety, but a move to Milwaukee, where nature’s quiet was more accessible, helped her regain her calm.

Some people claim to love urban noise. New York City is famously “the city that never sleeps.” But its noise is loud enough to cause hearing loss and for many people, noise is stressful.

In Japan, doctors can prescribe nature therapy, which they call forest bathing.

But you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to go out and enjoy nature’s quiet on your own. Try it!

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.

David Owen’s “Volume Control” gains attention

Photo credit: Nicholas Githiri from Pexels

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

New Yorker writer David Owen’s new book, “Volume Control,” continues to attract attention. On Friday, February 7, National Public Radio’s Kara Miller interviewed Owen on her show “Innovation Hub” (look for the episode “Can you hear me now?” in the link above).

Last November 5th, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Owen about his new book on “Fresh Air.” If you haven’t picked up a copy, do so–or tell your library to buy several copies because it’s in demand. Owen’s interview with Kara Miller begins by Owen describing Dr. Arline Bronzaft’s landmark research on the impacts of noise on kids’ ability to learn in Manhattan in the 1970s, a piece of research that led to an ANSI national standard and broad awareness of learning deficits. That was a true success during the brief period in the 1970s before noise was “pushed off the table” by industries that didn’t want to be bothered and a U.S. president who, though hearing-impaired himself, didn’t think the issue merited national attention.

Now it’s back. Owen’s book is one of a string of popular books that have emerged over the past decade on this subject: George Prochnik’s well-reviewed book “In Pursuit of Silence” (2010) became a successful documentary film with the same title in 2015. Garrett Keizer’s 2010 book “The Unwanted Sound Of Everything We Want” got excellent reviews in 2012. And also in 2012, the book “Why Noise Matters,” with a chapter by Dr. Bronzaft, has contributed to the public dialogue on the issue of noise and noise control. And, of course, there’s the National Academy of Engineering report in 2011, “Technology for a Quieter America,” and the World Health Organization’s two-volume “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise.”

But David Owen’s book is not a “policy treatise”—it’s a wonderfully entertaining narrative filled with fascinating first-hand stories. And underneath it all he recognizes that noise is fundamentally a health problem—and a burgeoning public health problem. Watch his short video for The New Yorker to get a taste: 

This book deserves everyone’s attention—so if you’re a member of a book club, please recommend it!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Lip reading: “I can’t hear you in the dark”

Photo credit: mail_collector licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The only treatments for hearing loss are hearing aids with cochlear implants reserved for the profoundly hearing impaired or those born deaf. The only rehabilitation for hearing loss is lip reading or sign language. Most people with severe hearing loss use lip reading to understand speech. Learning American sign language won’t help because few other than the deaf speak it.

This insightful essay by someone who wears hearing aids but largely uses lip reading to understand what people are saying offers a wonderful insight into what it’s like to use lip reading. Understanding comes from looking at the speaker’s mouth, facial expression, body movements, and of course hand and arm motions and position.

But the room can’t only be quiet. It has to be well-lit, too.

I don’t know that I could learn to lip read. I’ve tried, and it’s very difficult for me. Even more reason for me to protect my hearing by avoiding loud noise or inserting ear plugs if I can’t.

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.

A noise control cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis

Photo credit: Owen Barker from Pexels

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

In a 2019 article titled “Why is there no cure for tinnitus?” the authors looked at whether studies had dentified if participants have a history of significant noise exposure that could cause decreased sound tolerance, like hyperacusis or tinnitus. A cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis, the authors noted, could be very different from a cure for tinnitus or hyperacusis from other causes, like aging or head injury.

The article shows that it’s important for research to identify noise sub-types when evaluating potential cures. The underlying hearing health damage for sudden high level noise like acoustic trauma is different than damage from chronic moderate level noise over time. That is, the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from bomb blasts or firearms is likely different than the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from being exposed to unhealthy noise at school, on public transit systems, or at noisy workplaces.

High level public noise pollution in daily life can impact hearing health of all ages from babies to elders. Fortunately, the solution for tinnitus and hyperacusis caused by public noise pollution is not a cure–it’s better than a cure, as the solution is preventing the noise from happening in the first place.

How? There must be noise control for human manufactured unhealthy noise sources like personal listening devices, aircraft, road vehicles, railways, consumer products, and even MRI machines. There is no need for a cure if the source noise is never manufactured to be loud enough to cause decreased sound tolerance in the first place.

Controlling the source of noise would have other positive effects. Moderate levels of public noise pollution can significantly affect the quality of life for people with tinnitus and hyperacusis by causing poor sleep and making it significantly harder to understand speech in the presence of background noise. This, in turn, can increase stress levels, making it harder to cope and potentially interferring with available treatment.

Noise control is not impossible. Protecting the general public from unhealthy noise must cost less than the combined healthcare costs of diagnosing and treating tinnitus, hyperacusis, and other hearing health damage. And new noise prevention materials are constantly being invented. Examples include an acoustic material invented by Boston University that silences or cancels out 94% of sound waves without blocking light or airflow. A Canadian company is making noise barriers that absorb noise and air pollution. Quiet electric passenger planes could be in regional operation by 2021.

But nothing will change about public noise pollution until authorities and decision makers make health and hearing health a priority. This includes real time city and transportation noise mapping and reporting to identify locations with unhealthy noise. Noise prevention and control is necessary to protect public health and it should be mandatory.

Dr. Daniel Fink describes implications for acoustic engineering and design considerations for structures and enforced noise emission regulations and restrictions. Examples could include muffling school and public hand dryers, hour restrictions or night curfews at airports, quieter leaf blowers, quiet defaults on consumer products like microwaves with an option to turn on audible alerts, quiet solutions to replace vehicle back-up beeps, or preventing new imposed noise from delivery drones or noisy audible vehicle alert systems on electric cars. New technology needs to be quietly accessible for everyone.

Preventing public noise pollution won’t stop all cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis, but it could stop millions of cases around the world. Safe soundscapes without unhealthy noise are best for everyone from newborns to elders. And prevention is always better than trying to treat the problem or find a cure for noise-induced hearing damage after it occurs.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

 

How Mumbai solves its horn problem

Photo credit: CommGlobal UVA licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In India, a saying goes, you need four things to drive: a good car, good eyes, good luck, and a good horn. Honking horns are ubiquitous in the sprawling city of Mumbai. When the traffic light turns red, drivers honk their horns to get the drivers in front of them ready to move when it turns green.

The local police have figure out a solution to this noisy problem, though. They’ve hooked up decibel meters to the lights. If the drivers honk their horns, the light stays red.

The New York Times reports that other Indian cities are considering installing the same equipment.

Maybe the traffic folks in New York City will consider doing the same?

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.

A tech solution to restaurant noise?

Photo credit: Quark Studio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This informative piece by writer Chris Berdik discusses the problem of restaurant noise and a new technological solution to it, the Constellation audio system. The Constellation system uses microphones, speakers, and computer processing to tune a restaurant’s sound environment to sound quieter. A lot of sound absorbing material must be installed to make the room acoustically “dead” before the Constellation system is installed.

As discussed in this article in Acoustics Today, getting the acoustics right in a restaurant can be a challenge. Diners want to be able to converse with those at their table, but want enough ambient noise to provide speech privacy for their conversations–and they don’t want to hear the conversations at neighboring tables. They want some sound, so the restaurant isn’t as quiet as a tomb, but not too much. And the acoustic characteristics of the restaurant change, both in terms of noise production and sound absorption, as the restaurant goes from half empty to chock-a-block full.

The developers of the Constellation system are trying to bring the price down. It’s currently $60-80,000, which is a lot of money. If restaurateurs want to make their restaurants more inviting for patrons, they will find the funds to make the space comfortable and inviting.

Of course, one of the first principles of acoustics is that the easiest way to make a space quieter is to reduce the noise at its source. And the cheapest and easiest way to reduce restaurant noise costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified background music, which often is turned up to rock concert levels!

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.