Monthly Archive: September 2016

Can’t Hear in Noisy Places? There a reason for that:

Melinda Beck, writing for the Wall Street Journal, examines hidden hearing loss, a condition where people have trouble understanding conversations in noisy situations.  Beck looks at how it differs from traditional hearing damage, reporting that:

[T]here’s growing evidence that the causes of problems processing speech amid noise are different than the causes of problems hearing sound. Scientists believe exposure to loud noises can erode the brain’s ability to listen selectively and decode words, without causing traditional hearing damage. Difficulty understanding speech amid noise can set in long before traditional hearing loss.

The researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary who discovered hidden hearing loss in mice in 2009 have recently shown that damage occurs in humans as well.  “Exactly how such damage, called cochlear synaptopathy, compromises the ability to understand speech amid noise isn’t fully understood,” writes Beck, but “researchers think cochlear synaptopathy may help explain tinnitus, the persistent buzzing or ringing some people hear, as well as hyperacusis, which is an increased sensitivity to unpleasant sounds such as a baby crying or a siren.”

Apparently many people who may have hidden hearing loss also have traditional hearing loss.  Sadly, there isn’t enough information yet for hidden hearing loss to be part of routine diagnosis of hearing problems, but the research continues.  Until then, audiologists suggest patients who have speech-in-noise difficulties consider hearing aids and other assistive listening devices.

Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.

Mumbai government responds robustly to address

noise levels ‘above safe limit’ in most parts of Mumbai.

The Hindustan Times reports that most localities in Mumbai, India’s noisiest city, are noisier than the safe limit.  The information comes from a study by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation which measured sound levels at 740 of 1,200 locations across Mumbai and found that “most of the locations recorded noise levels above permissible limits for residential areas and silence zones.”  The noise mapping project was commenced to satisfy a Bombay High Court order that made it mandatory “for all authorities to carry out noise mapping and take into account all aspects of noise pollution as a parameter of quality of life.”

Indian authorities are concerned about the health implications of noise, particularly the concern that “exposure to high noise levels causes hearing loss, high blood pressure and mental health problems.”  Notes Dr MV Jagade, consultant ENT surgeon and head of department at JJ Hospital and Grant Medical College, “[e]xposure to noise pollution above 80 decibels (dB) for eight hours a day for eight years will induce permanent deafness. Shorter exposure of higher decibel levels also damages the ear drums.”

The noise-mapping project will continue through the end of the year until all 1,200 locations are measured; the combined data will be analysed and interpreted in January 2017.

Meet New York City’s noise warriors,

who are fighting to keep the city quiet(er). Nicole Levy, writing for DNAInfo, introduces us to three New Yorkers who have been working to protect their fellow citizens’ health and well-being.  Levy first profiles Arline Bronzaft, an environmental psychologist, who published a widely cited, ground-breaking study on the effect of subway noise on children’s’ reading ability in 1975.  Today, Bronzaft volunteers her time with GrowNYC, where she takes on the hardest cases: people who have tried everything to stop noise but failed.  Bronzaft “asks the complainant to list all the steps he has taken to mitigate the offending noise, and writes to the apartment’s managing agent or landlord ‘on GrowNYC letterhead,’ she specified, presenting the case and inviting a discussion.”  “They listen,” says Levy, “because if any name in the anti-noise movement carries clout in New York City, it’s Arline Bronzaft.”

Levy next introduces us to Janet McEneaney, the president of Queens Quiet Skies, an advocacy group against aviation noise and pollution.  McEneaney became involved in fighting aviation noise when she awoke one morning in 2012 to the sound of roaring jets flying over her home every 60 seconds.  She learned that the noise was “an unintended consequence of a new air traffic control system, The Next Generation Air Transportation System.”  The noise persists, but McEneaney, on learning about the health consequences of noise, took her research to U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, who introduced the “Quiet Communities Act of 2015” last fall (the bill remains in committee).

Finally, Levy writes about Tae Hong Park, an associate professor of music composition and technology at NYU, who has created a project he calls Citygram that is  “an audio version of Google maps.”  The first phase of the Citygram project, in which sound recording technology runs on a web browser that anyone with internet connection can use, has been completed.  Park says that phase two will involve gathering information and analyzing patterns, followed by phase three, in which the whole process is automated “so machines can tell us the answers to what sounds are the loudest, what sounds disturb or concern the public the most.”

Reading about Bronzaft, McEneaney, and Park calls to mind this Margaret Mead quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Important information for parents

Catherine Caruso, reporting for Scientific American, writes about “Detecting Hidden Hearing Loss in Young People.”  Caruso looks at hidden hearing loss, a phenomenon discovered in 2009, which the researchers who discovered it consider a “likely contributor to the cumulative loss typically associated with aging.”  Now, those researchers have developed tools for detecting hidden hearing loss and have discovered evidence of hidden hearing loss in young people.

While Caruso notes that there is hope that hidden hearing loss could be reversed in the future, she also points out steps one can take now to protect hearing: namely, by limiting noise exposure and using ear protection.  And parents, talk to your kids about their earbud and headphone use.  No one knows if and when researchers will be able to reverse hidden hearing loss, so avoiding hidden hearing loss in the first instance is the best tact.

First mobile app for street-level air and noise pollution launches in Europe,

coming to the United States soon.  According to its developers, the Ambiciti mobile app “measures levels of air and noise pollution street by street in real-time and offers the healthiest route for urban citizens to move and live in their cities.”  The app does this by combining “all sources of information available: numerical simulations, observations of fixed sensors, mobile sensor observations and qualitative observation,” so that people can choose a path around the city that minimizes their exposure to noise or air pollution.  The developers hope that the information the app provides influences policy decisions and encourages healthier lives.

Paris is celebrating World Car-Free Day today

by banning traffic from half the city, as are a host of other cities, including Brussels, Bogotá, Philadelphia, and Detroit, but not London to The Guardian’s dismay.   Various cities around the world have pledged to close off some streets to car traffic on or around World Car-Free Day, which is September 22nd of each year.  According to The Guardian, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo “promoted the first Journée Sans Voiture a year ago, in response to a rise in air pollution that briefly made the French capital the most polluted city in the world.”  While the mayor was focused on the effect of a car-free environment on air pollution, sound measurements were also taken and show a significant drop in noise pollution:

Airparif, an independent air pollution monitor, said that on Paris’s first car-free day – which covered around a third of the city – nitrogen dioxide levels dropped by up to 40% in some parts. Bruitparif, which measures noise, said sound levels fell by half in the centre.

Imagine being in a city that is half as loud as it would typically be.  Sounds like bliss, no?  Sadly, cities have been butchered to accommodate the car, a mostly unnecessary tool if there is appropriate public transportation and cab service available–not to mention Uber et al.  One hopes that World Car-Free Day takes off and soon becomes World Car-Free Week, followed, one hopes, by the embrace of urban design that puts humans before cars.

Here’s some helpful advice for those who work in open-plan offices:

The best ways to cope with a noisy office.  Rachel Becker, writing for The Verge, is wisely concerned about finding a good option to block distracting noise at work that won’t put her hearing at risk.  Becker notes that “[h]earing loss typically occurs as people age” and that it is irreversible, but what she is concerned about is the World Health Organization’s statement that “more than 1.1 billion young adults are also at risk” of hearing loss because approximately “half of [all] people ages 12 to 35 in middle-to-high income countries are exposing themselves to unsafe levels of noise on their devices.”  That is, younger people are engaging in activities that almost guarantee they will suffer hearing loss as they age, something Becker wants to avoid.

Sadly, her review of options doesn’t reveal a perfect answer.  But her article is important because she is young and aware that she may be able to avoid hearing loss entirely by taking steps to protect her hearing today.  She’s right, after all, about hearing loss being irreversible, and the truth is that no one knows when, or if, a cure will be found.  Since noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, Becker is choosing the wiser route: avoid exposing your ears to damaging sound today to preserve your hearing tomorrow.

 

Animals are responding to human noise:

Bats are adapting their hunting strategies to the noise of our cities.  The good news is that a study published in Science shows that bats appear to be successfully adapting to human noise.  But as a researcher not involved in that study notes, “[s]ome animals probably can’t [adapt].”  So what happens to them?  And what about humans?  As the world gets noisier, how will we cope?  Or not?  It’s certainly something that should be addressed sooner rather than later, because, as the article reports:

“This is way beyond bats now. This is about thinking about any animals,” says Paul Faure, the director of the Bat Lab at McMaster University, who was not involved in the study. “We are domesticating our planet, we’re creating noise pollution, we’re creating light pollution. We’re fundamentally altering the world that we live in.”

Noise and its effect on all animals, including humans, has been ignored for too long.  It’s more than just a nuisance.  Among other things, noise can damage hearing with one exposure.  It’s time that the federal, state, and local governments step up and regulate noise much as they regulate air or water pollution, treating noise as the public health hazard that it is.  It also is time for adults to assume some responsibility for their hearing and their children’s hearing by protecting themselves and others through the use of ear plugs and ear muff protectors, or by the simply lowering the volume when they can, and leaving a loud space when they cannot.  It’s time that we take noise-induced hearing loss and other noise-induced hearing injuries seriously.  Because until we do, people will continue to suffer permanent hearing injuries for which there is no cure, a particularly galling situation when one considers that noise-induced hearing injuries are 100% preventable.

Meanwhile, in the UK….

The Guardian’s Rachel Cooke asks, “Who wants a din with their dinner?”  The answer, of course, is no one.  But we don’t always get what we want.  That could change, though.  Cooke reports that UK charity Action on Hearing Loss is stepping up to the plate to take on restaurant noise head on.  Namely, the organization is in the process of “funding the development of a mobile phone app that will enable customers to record decibel levels when they go out to eat.”  Cooke says that “[t]he idea is that, duly named and shamed, the noisiest offenders will perhaps be minded to do something about the pain they seem so determined to inflict on diners and, far worse, their own long-suffering staff.”

Cooke likes the idea, but she doesn’t think it will work.  She notes that “a certain tabloid newspaper” sent reporters armed with decibel recorders to various well-known restaurants and recorded punishingly high decibel readings–two restaurants clocking in at over 105 decibels–but the restaurants are still loud after the tabloid’s exposé.

So is there anything that can be done?  Yes there is.  Cooke writes:

A tolerance for extreme noise is, alas, just another aspect of what we might call the booming 21st-century restaurant industry’s near sadistic approach to customers: the same treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen attitude that brought us restaurants which refuse to take bookings, and maitre d’s who would rather stare at an iPad than meet your eye. * * * All this is beyond infuriating, of course – except we’ve only ourselves to blame. The customer, in these scenarios, might well seem to be a craven, masochistic figure, contemptible in his desperate willingness to be humiliated and kept in line all for the sake of a few small plates and a bottle of slightly filthy organic wine.  But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still king.  If only more of us walked, fingers in ears, things would change faster than you can shout “uproar”.

She’s right.  Until more of us refuse to eat in loud restaurants by walking out after telling management why we are leaving, things won’t change.  But until they do New Yorkers can check out our sister site, Quiet City Maps for reviews on restaurants, bars, and coffee shops in the city based on noise level.  With Quiet City Maps you won’t have to deal with punishing noise over a plate of pasta, cafe au lait, or cocktail again!

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.