Monthly Archive: April 2017

Is your home too noisy?

Here are six tips to make your world less noisy. Kathy Riggs, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor, writes about the National Institutes of Health’s campaign against noise-induced hearing loss called “It’s a Noisy Planet – Protect Their Hearing.”  Noting that “[t]his type of hearing loss can be permanent, but it is preventable,” Riggs provides six useful tips for limiting your family’s exposure to noise, including monitoring the volume of earbuds, keeping outdoor noises outdoor, and checking the noise rating of common household appliances.  Click the link to to read more about her tips for protecting your family’s hearing.

The Brits sure take their noise complaints seriously, Part II:

It was fun until the fuzz took his music away.

Loud music costs noisy neighbour £1.7k and his sound systems. The defendant had been warned on many occasions and served a noise abatement notice, but he would not stop. Until, that is, the law took away his sound system–and it’s not coming back.

A magistrate gave the defendant “a two year conditional discharge and ordered him to pay full costs to the council of £1754.50, plus a £20 victim surcharge,” and “also agreed that the sound systems, DVD player and CDs would be forfeited and not returned.” £1754.50 is approximately $2187.24, a not insignificant amount.

It may seem harsh, but as the council chair of the environment, transport, and sustainability committee stated: “Like all anti-social behaviour, noise nuisance can cause a great deal of distress.”  That is a fact the defendant will never forget (one hopes).

Feeling a bit stressed? Maybe this will help.

It’s true: The sound of nature helps us relax.  Researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) have “found that playing ‘natural sounds’ affected the bodily systems that control the flight-or-fright and rest-digest autonomic nervous systems, with associated effects in the resting activity of the brain.” Science Daily reports that “[w]hile naturalistic sounds and ‘green’ environments have frequently been linked with promoting relaxation and wellbeing, until now there has been no scientific consensus as to how these effects come about.”

The researchers “conducted an experiment where participants listened to sounds recorded from natural and artificial environments,” during which their brain activity was measured and autonomic nervous system activity was monitored. The research team found that activity in the “default mode network of the brain (a collection of areas which are active when we are resting) was different depending on the sounds playing in the background.” Long and short, when listening to natural sounds “the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention,” whereas artificial sounds caused the brain connectivity to reflect “an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.”  Interestingly, the change in brain activity depended on the participant’s stress level–those showing the greatest stress before the experiment “showed the greatest bodily relaxation when listening to natural sounds,” but those who were already relaxed showed “a slight increase in stress” when “listening to natural compared with artificial sounds.”

While helpful for treating people with anxiety, the study results will have a much greater reach. Science Daily notes that “the study of environmental exposure effects is of growing interest in physical and mental health settings, and greatly influences issues of public health and town planning.” Could a restful natural spot will be coming to your town?

Link via UK Noise Association.

We’ve asked this very question many times

Photo credit: Philip Robertson

Why are (some) sports so noisy? Kathi Mestayer, Hearing Health Magazine, asks that question in her thoughtful article about sports and noise. At Silencity we have expressed concern with the ongoing display of bravado between NFL teams over which team’s fans can produce the loudest crowd roar, and noted with despair that this inane and dangerous contest has been embraced by college sports.  But as Mestayer notes in her article, noise in sports is not limited to popular team sports.  As anyone looking to get fit at the local gym knows, we are often exposed to excruciatingly loud music as part of the gym “experience.”

Mestayer writes that “[v]olumes in fitness classes hae been measured at above 100 dBA,” which, according to a handy graphic accompanying the article, can cause hearing damage after 14 minutes of exposure (if not before).  So why is it so loud?  Because “[b]ackground music is used to set the pace (and vary it), keep people moving, and make the workout seem more energetic and fun.”  Except when it isn’t.  Mestayer interviews Bonnie Schnitta, an acoustics consultant, who tells her about an acoustical retrofit for a gym because of noise complaints. The problem was due to design decisions, because, said Schnitta, “[p]eople often aren’t thinking about noise during the design phase.”

So what can we do?  Mestayer gives us some options, including using earplugs and downloading the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s sound meter, but one thing is clear–until and unless the government mandates noise standards for the public in public spaces, you have to protect yourself.

Click the first link to read Mestayer’s article in full.  It’s well worth your time.

CDC research on non-occupational noise-induced hearing loss

The Hearing Journal addresses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) February 2017 Vital Signs issue on noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), focusing on the CDC’s findings with regard to non-occupational NIHL. CDC scientists Yulia Carroll, MD, PhD, and John Eichwald, MA, write about the medical community inquiries the CDC received on the topic of hearing loss related to noise in non-occupational settings, and discuss the research relied on in producing the Vital Signs’ NIHL issue.

Carroll and Eichwald write that “[m]any people may not recognize that loud noise from common activities, such as mowing the lawn or attending sporting events, can be as loud as the noise found in the workplace and is enough to damage hearing.”  They note that “it is important to raise public awareness that the louder the noise and the longer the exposure, the more likely hearing damage will occur.” After all, prevention of disease is an important CDC goal, and, as the authors write, “[n]oise-induced hearing loss is a preventable health condition that can be avoided by using relatively easy measures.”

Unfortunately, “[t]here are no federal guidelines on safe noise exposures” for the public, but Carroll and Eichwald suggest that that could change:

Because noise-induced hearing damage accumulates over time, there is a need for future research about noise exposure and prevention at younger ages. CDC is working with various organizations and continues to analyze national data to prioritize public health needs.

On hearing loss and the hope for a cure

In “High-Tech Hope for the Hard of Hearing,” David Owen, The New Yorker, has written an article that gives us a good look at what scientists know about hearing loss and where they are finding possibilities for treatment and, possibly, a cure. He begins his article with a series of personal anecdotes about himself, his family, and friends and the hearing problems they’ve developed due to exposure to loud noise and other factors. Owen’s interest in this story is motivated, at least in part, by his tinnitus, which is marked by a constant high-pitched ringing in his ears.

Among the advances that Owen examines, he discusses the discovery of hidden hearing loss and introduces us to Charles Liberman, who, with his colleague Sharon Kujawa, “solved a mystery that had puzzled some audiologists for years: the fact that two people with identical results on a standard hearing test, called an audiogram, could have markedly different abilities to understand speech, especially against a background of noise.” He writes that “[s]cientists had known for a long time that most hearing impairment involves damage to the synapses and nerve fibres to which hair cells are attached, but they had assumed that the nerve damage followed hair-cell loss, and was a consequence of it.” What Liberman and Kujawa discovered is that “the connections between the sensory cells and the nerve fibres that go first.” And the reason this early damage isn’t picked up by a standard hearing test is because it measures “the ability to detect pure tones along a scale of frequencies [which] requires only functioning hair cells…and is unaffected by nerve damage until more than eighty per cent of the synapses are gone.”

“A disturbing implication of [Liberman and Kujawa’s] finding is that hearing can be damaged at decibel levels and exposure times that have traditionally been considered safe,” writes Owen, but he is reassured by the researchers that the discovery of hidden hearing loss is cause for optimism. Why? “[B]ecause reconnecting nerve synapses is almost certain to be easier than regenerating functioning hair cells inside human ears.” In fact, Owen tells us that Liberman and others “have successfully restored some damaged connections in lab animals, and [Liberman] believes that far greater advances are to come.”

While cause for optimism is welcome, Owen notes something early in his article that is particularly frustrating to those advocating for regulation of noise:

There are also increasingly effective methods of preventing damage in the first place, and of compensating for it once it’s occurred. The natural human tendency, though, is to do nothing and hope for the best, usually while pretending that nothing is wrong.

Click the link above to read this interesting and hopeful article in full.

 

 

Top researchers work toward treatments, but prevention remains the best medicine.

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Humans are born with only 15,000 cochlear hair cells. When these are destroyed by noise they don’t regenerate, unlike cochlear hair cells in other animals, such as chickens. If a way can be found to regenerate human cochlear hair cells, perhaps hearing can be restored.

A recent report from Harvard and MIT holds promise for treating hearing loss in the future. Researchers there were able to increase the number of stem cells from mouse cochlear hair cells in vitro using a cocktail of small-molecule chemicals. It’s hard to do basic science research on humans–one can’t hurt people doing research–but mice share 99% of our genetic material, and being small and inexpensive, they are good substitutes in the lab. The researchers hope to begin testing their approach in humans in 18 months.

This is great news for millions of Americans with hearing loss. It’s possible that with additional advances, one day their hearing could be restored. But I have one problem with the report: The researchers are developing a treatment, probably not an inexpensive one, for a problem that is entirely preventable.

The public health mantra is that prevention is always better and cheaper than treatment, which in turn is better and cheaper than rehabilitation. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. How? Avoid loud noise. If you can’t avoid noise exposure, use hearing protection (earplugs and ear muff hearing protective devices). You can find these in your drugstore, in “big box” home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, or online. There is even an online retailer devoted only to hearing protection.

So kudos to the researchers at Harvard and MIT. No doubt their work and the work of other researchers will eventually help the millions of Americans who already suffer from hearing loss and other hearing damage. But let’s put time, money, and effort in promoting a cheaper and safer approach to hearing health–prevention. No more research is needed, and we can avoid hearing loss today.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association and 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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Progress Made Against Hospital Noise

By The Quiet Coalition

Some people care most about airport noise. Others focus on noise in schools or restaurants or stadiums. But one group of about 500 professionals has spent twelve years reducing noise in America’s hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Of course, airport noise is a public health problem—especially for people living near America’s 5,194 airports–but noise is a serious public health problem indoors too. This is particularly so for people whose health is compromised, i.e., the millions of patients in America’s 62,414 hospitals and healthcare facilities, not to mention the quarter-million medical and support staff who work there amid the din.

Healthcare facilities are oftentimes the noisiest, most sleep-deprived places you will find anywhere. Have you tried sleeping in an older-style hospital recently? Furthermore, the noise problem has escalated steadily for decades thanks to the burgeoning use of new technologies such as alarmed medical devices.

Fortunately, a group of about 500 professionals known as the FGI Acoustics Working Group has been working continuously for twelve years to address noise in healthcare facilities. So this story contains good news.

The group published it’s first comprehensive noise control criteria in 2010, which were quickly adopted by most states. To hear the difference, visit just about any recently constructed hospital and compare it to an older hospital.  The group’s criteria have now been “exported” to eighty-seven other countries that struggle with the same indoor noise problems (this was accomplished through partnerships with the International Code Council, the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Health Care initiative, and other groups).

But this group’s crusade against noise is not over. This November 2017, they and their hosts will publish more detailed and updated noise control criteria in three separate volumes, one covering America’s 5,564 hospitals, one for the country’s 25,750 healthcare clinics, and another one for it’s 31,100 residential care facilities. If you’re interested you can see their latest work here, FGI Bulletin #2, and here in their first edition (published in 2012).

The Quiet Coalition is proud that its chair, vice chair, and another TQC co-founder are both involved in leading this important work. According to our vice chair, David Sykes, “this decade-long work shows that a broad coalition of interested professionals–in this case, consisting of doctors, nurses, patients and families, public health advocates, hospital administrators, researchers, regulatory agency personnel, lawyers, planners, architects, engineers, designers, and contractors–can achieve meaningful, national progress toward ending the long-ignored public health problem of noise by taking a focused approach and addressing the needs of people who are particularly vulnerable.”

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.