Monthly Archive: January 2018

Another promising lead for repairing hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article reports yet another promising lead for repairing hearing loss from research done at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Sea anemones can repair hair cells on their tentacles that respond to vibration. Fish have similar hair cells on their scales that help them respond to currents in the water as well as to detect prey and avoid predators. Researcher Glen Watson, PhD, found that a protein made by sea anemones helped repair damaged hair cells, first in experiments done in fish and then in hair cells from mice. The hope is that this protein can eventually be used to help repair hair cells in humans.

This is another interesting development with potential to eventually lead to a treatment for hearing loss. But shouldn’t we focus on the cause of hearing loss, too? We already know that noise damages hair cells, leading to hearing loss, and it’s a whole lot easier and cheaper to prevent noise-induced hearing loss by avoiding loud noise exposure or protecting one’s ears if exposure cannot be avoided.

So while it is exciting to see that researchers are getting closer to finding a treatment for hearing loss, let’s not ignore a fact that requires no additional research:

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Remember: your ears are like your eyes or your knees. God only gave you two of them. Protect them well, because you need them to last a whole lifetime!

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

The changing sound of earth

Claire Asher, the BBC, writes about how the world sounds different than it did a century ago. And the reason is not benign–climate change has had a dramatic effect on the oceans, for example,

How big is the impact, really? Bigger than one might expect. Writes Asher:

In 2015, a US team of scientists and engineers reported that the loudest sound in some waters now comes from millions of tiny bubbles, which are released by melting glaciers and icebergs. In the fjords of Alaska and Antarctica, the average noise level is now over 100 decibels – louder than any ocean environment recorded before.

Click the link to read the full article.  The changing soundscape is a warning sign, as “Earth’s natural soundscape is changing irreversibly, and human activity is driving the process.”

How likely are you to get tinnitus from clubbing?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the UK asks the question: How likely are you to get tinnitus from clubbing?

The article points out that there really isn’t any way to predict who will develop tinnitus, i.e., ringing in the ears, after noise exposure, and that’s the most important thing to know.

I didn’t know that a one-time exposure to loud noise could cause tinnitus the rest of one’s life. I developed tinnitus (and hyperacusis, a sensitivity to noise that doesn’t bother others, with noise causing pain in the ear) after a one-time exposure to loud music in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve ten years ago.

Fortunately, there is one simple rule to protect your ears: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

If you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to hear, the ambient noise is above the auditory injury threshold of 75 A-weighted decibels, and your hearing is being damaged.

Research done over the last decade strongly suggests that there is no temporary auditory damage. In animal models, loud noise damages the synapses (nerve junctions) in the ear before it damages the hair cells. This damage isn’t detected by standard hearing tests (pure tone audiometry) but likely is the major reason why adults have difficulty following one conversation among many in a noisy environment.

Remember, your ears are like your eyes or your knees–God only gave you two of them! Take care of them, and they will last you your whole life.

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

When in doubt, sue—Canadians did and won

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

Hard to believe that Canadians could be as litigious as we are down here in the U.S., but this Canadian group won their noise suit.

Imagine suing a U.S. federal agency about highway construction noise and actually winning! Of course, it took this Canadian group two decades to win, and in toto they won only $3.5 million. In the end, a typical family will receive about $3,000 to $5,000—that’s enough for a family to buy a single pair of hearing aids–so perhaps the whole family will take turns wearing them?

But what this case suggests is that legal action is a viable strategy—at least in regions where it’s understood that noise is public health problem and that, therefore, citizens are entitled to relief.

Are we there yet in the U.S.?

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.

Gene therapy is great, but can anyone afford it?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Science holds great promise for treatments and cures. Among the areas of research in treating or curing hearing loss or even total deafness is gene therapy. Scientists at Columbia University and Stanford University and elsewhere are already working on this.

The main concern I have about gene therapy is its cost. A new treatment for a rare form of blindness costs $850,000. A recently approved gene therapy for a rare form of leukemia costs $500,000.

No one can predict how much a gene therapy treatment for hearing loss or deafness will cost, but the ballpark is several hundred thousand dollars. For a condition affecting 50 million Americans, that’s more than our country can afford. Insurance premiums would have to increase ten or one hundred times if health insurance or pharmacy benefits paid for the drug, or there would be prohibitive cost sharing. Out of pocket costs would be more than anyone except a few multimillionaires or billionaires could afford.

And the sad part is that the overwhelming majority of hearing loss in adults–I estimate up to 90% of all cases of adult hearing loss–is noise-induced hearing loss, which is 100% preventable.

My advice: avoid loud noise. If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud. Protect your ears. Like your eyes and knees, God only gave you two of them, and they have to last a whole lifetime!

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

Pursuing an invisible threat

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Prof. Richard Neitzel, of the University of Michigan and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, views noise as an invisible threat. In this university news release, he discusses some of his research and its implications for health.

Watch Dr. Neitzel talk about noise pollution and his career studying noise pollution exposure and health outcomes:

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

Ringing ears is a sign of permanent damage to hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Cleveland Clinic makes the point that ringing in the ears–the technical term is tinnitus–after loud noise exposure indicates that permanent damage has occurred to the ears.

That’s good to know. I didn’t know that before a one-time exposure to loud noise ten years ago caused tinnitus for the rest of my life.

But I disagree strongly with two things Sharon A. Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology at the Cleveland Clinic, says in the online article.

One is her statement, “[a]s you get older, it’s natural to experience some hearing loss.”

No, it’s not natural to experience hearing loss with age. Hearing loss with age is very common, but it is not part of normal healthy aging, representing largely noise-induced hearing loss. I spoke about this last year at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zurich.

Dr. Sandridge’s second erroneous statement, with much more serious implications, is “[a] majority of people are safe listening to 85 dB for eight hours.”

This is just wrong! The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) doesn’t think so and neither do I.

Eighty-five decibels–actually 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) which usually measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted sound measurements–is the occupational noise exposure standard from NIOSH that even with strict time limits doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

The mathematics of the logarithmic decibel scale mean that after 2 hours of 85 dBA noise exposure, it is impossible to attain the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss, 70 decibels time-weighted average for 24 hours.

Most Americans are exposed to too much noise. Because of that, about 25% of American adults have noise-induced hearing loss, including many without any occupational exposure.

We’re running a great natural experiment–does noise exposure cause hearing loss?–and the answer is obviously “yes”.

And statements like those of “experts” like Dr. Sandridge, minimizing the health risks of noise exposure, are unfortunately part of the problem.

Dr. Daniel 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 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.