Monthly Archive: June 2018

Restaurant noise in the news

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I became a noise activist because I have tinnitus and hyperacusis and find loud restaurants unpleasant, so it was gratifying to see these two articles about restaurant noise. One is about restaurant noise in Austin, Texas, and the other more broadly reports about a study on restaurant noise sponsored by hearing aid manufacturer Oticon.

Both articles point out that the noise levels in many restaurants are loud enough to cause hearing loss, and that restaurant patrons have difficulty conversing due to the high ambient noise levels.

What the articles don’t mention is that restaurant noise is a major problem for older Americans, half of whom have hearing loss.

As long as the restaurants are busy, I don’t think they will voluntarily bother to make themselves quieter. As with smoke-free restaurants, this is something that will require enough voters complaining often enough to their elected officials to get regulations requiring quieter restaurants. Until that happens, speak up. If you go to a restaurant that is too loud, ask the manager or wait staff to lower it. If they won’t, leave.

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.

How I became a noise activist

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This essay by pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, describes how she became a detective and public health activist after detecting high lead levels in her patients’ blood in Flint, Michigan.

It reminded me of how I became a noise activist after reading an article about hyperacusis, a medical condition in which noise causes pain at sound levels not perceived as painful by others.

Just as with the safe lead level being known but ignored, the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss has been known since at least 1974, but ignored by regulators and public health authorities after the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded by Congress during the deregulatory era that was the Reagan years. It took me a year to figure out what the safe noise exposure level was to prevent hearing loss.

Fortunately, public health authorities have begun to recognize the dangers of noise exposure for the public. As this report shows, noise has adverse non-auditory health effects and may be causally associated with dementia.

But we must pressure our elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels to set safe noise exposure standards, and then to enforce these, to protect the health of ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

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.

Justice prevails: Federal court rules sound cannon can be excessive police force

Alex Pasternack, Fast Company, reports on a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decision that ruled “[a] powerful speaker that’s capable of causing hearing damage and is used by a growing number of police around the world isn’t merely a ‘communication device’ but, potentially, an instrument of excessive force.” The court was addressing the appeals of two New York City police officers who were seeking qualified immunity in a lawsuit that accused “them of using unconstitutionally excessive force when they deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2014.”

The 2nd circuit affirmed a decision last June in which District Court Judge Robert Sweet, of the southern district of New York, ruled that the sound emitted by a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) used by the New York City Police Department to order protestors onto sidewalks “could be considered a form of force.”

Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, writiing for the 2nd circuit, found that “purposely using an LRAD in a way that can cause serious injury in order to move non-violent protesters violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Judge Katzmann added that, “this Court’s longstanding test for excessive force claims teaches that force must be necessary and proportionate to the circumstances … [T]he problem posed by protesters in the street did not justify the use of force, much less force capable of causing serious injury, such as hearing loss.”

It is never acceptable for any police force to use sound cannons against non-violent protestors. Period.

Loud music listened to on headphones is causing hearing loss in children

Photo credit: Gordon licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My main noise issue is restaurant noise, but I have learned about other noise issues, too. When I figured out that the oft-cited 85 decibel standard is an occupational noise exposure standard, and not a safe noise exposure standard for the public, I sent emails and letters to the audiologists quoted in media reports. When I realized that 85 decibels was used as a safe volume limit for headphones marketed for toddlers as young as 3 years, I called this to the attention of pediatricians, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control. My efforts, sadly, have thus far been unsuccessful.

My worries were based on theoretical concerns. There was no way that loud noise without a time exposure limit could be safe for children. Now this report documents that the hearing loss I was worried about isn’t a theoretical concern any more. Namely, the news article writes about a study conducted by Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, in which scientists “studied more than 5,000 children aged nine to 11-years-old over three years, found one in seven of the youngsters had suffered some hearing loss.”

The study is preliminary. The hearing tests were done as part of a study of normal child development in Rotterdam, but not specifically to determine whether personal music player use caused hearing loss. More than 5,000 children were enrolled in the study, but complete hearing tests were available for only about 3,000, and personal music player use was assessed by parental report. Despite these limitations, the study found that 14% of the children, now just under 11 years old, had some type of hearing impairment.

That said, one must ask what is causing this early onset hearing loss. The researchers believe the cause may be children’s use of headphones to listen to portable music players.

Maybe this will spur regulatory authorities into action. At the very least, parents and grandparents can take these headphones away from their little darlings, and give them instead the gift of continued good hearing.

The problem with headphones isn’t just hearing loss. As a parent and soon to be grandparent, I know that talking with children and listening to what they say–almost from the time they are born–is one of the most important ways to teach them words and language, to establish a relationship with them, and to educate them about the world. Giving the child a personal music player or video player and headphones can occupy the child for hours–it’s certainly easier than carrying books and reading them to the child, or giving the child a paper and crayons, or playing with dolls or trucks or Legos–and it allows the parent to watch or listen to his or her own cellphone or personal electronic device, but it probably isn’t the best thing for the child, either.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association board from 2015-2018.

 

Fathers are more likely to have hearing loss than mothers

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Just in time for Father’s Day, this article from Australia highlights the well-known fact that men are much more likely to have noise-induced hearing loss than women.

This is due to greater occupational noise exposure–factory work, heavy equipment operation, military service–and recreational noise exposure, from garage bands, hunting, motor sports, and power tools.

The article repeats the joke that hearing loss in men is a protective adaptation to help us not hear requests to take out the trash, but the truth is that hearing loss has a major impact on communication at home and at work.

If you are a father or grandfather, maybe it’s time for a hearing check?

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 odd saga of the “sonic attacks” continues

Photo credit: jo.sau licensed under CC BY 2.0

Vice News writes that the U.S. government has pulled out diplomats from a station in Guangzhou, China, “after one official suffered mild traumatic brain injury, sparking fears that U.S. government personnel in China were being targeted using the same methods that forced 24 U.S. officials to flee the Caribbean island in 2017.”

As in the earlier case, there has been no official explanation, instead the authorities issue medical alerts and statements assigning blame to Cuba or Russia or China. Vice News put together a timeline of this very odd 18-month old story.  As Vice notes in one entry from January 2018:

Sen. Marco Rubio, who chaired the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing into the attacks, called the weapon being used “very sophisticated technology that does not exist in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world” — despite no evidence that these weapons exist.

Given the enormous amount of money the U.S. spends on its military and intelligence, how likely is it that no one knows exactly what these phantom “sonic weapons” are or how they operate? It just feels like there’s something missing from this ongoing story, making it hard to accept the conclusion that “sonic weapons” are the source of the “mild traumatic brain injuries,” whatever this means.  Are we being too skeptical or do you agree?

Loud noises are bad for health

Photo credit: Kevin Payravi licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I think everyone knows that enough exposure to loud noise can damage hearing–even if most people don’t think it will happen to them–but few know that noise has major non-auditory health effects.

This report from HealthLine provides an excellent summary of these adverse health effects, including a weakened immune system, irritability and anxiety, difficulty sleeping and male fertility problems.

For many years, secondhand smoke was viewed as a minor nuisance and those who complained about it as weak, neurotic, unhappy complainers, or radical environmentalists. Only when the Environmental Protection Agency classified environmental tobacco smoke (as secondhand smoke is technically known) as a Class A carcinogen with no known safe exposure level was the public empowered to demand smoke free restaurants, stores, workplaces, and transportation. I think that public awareness of noise as a health hazard will similarly empower us to demand a quieter world.

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.

That this exists is a disgrace

Photo credit: Darin Marshall licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There are some people in this country who believe making the loudest sound is some sort of achievement to be celebrated. They are, of course, wrong. Case in point, this ridiculous and dangerous “contest” described in the Star Tribune has to be one of the most ignorant and dangerous of these foolish displays yet: Minnesota’s extreme car stereo fans compete to see how loud they can go.

How loud are the cars? Said one deranged participant, “I’m hoping for 166 [decibels]-plus.” Keep in mind the noise level of a jet plane from 100 feet away is a mere 135 dB, and the permissible noise exposure limit for 130-to-140 dB is “less than 1 second.” Every participant and observer attending this misguided event is surely destroying their hearing.

For those who think we are being a bit hyperbolic, consider that the noise level is loud enough to affect the car frame. The Star Tribune reports that “[t]he sound waves from these stereo systems are so powerful they can literally raise the roof, causing the metal car bodies to visibly flex and vibrate and the windshield wipers to bounce off the glass.”

So congratulations to all the participants who spent their disposable cash chasing the dream. Perhaps the winner can put the prize money towards a pair of hearing aids, because there is no cure for hearing loss.

Hearing loss in young people changes brain function

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Since I became a noise activist and started learning about the dangers of noise, I have been predicting an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in young people due to their ubiquitous use of personal music players with associated headphones or earbuds, often turned up loud enough to annoy me when they walk past. This article reports that young adults with subtle hearing loss also have brain function changes detected on functional MRI scans.

We don’t just hear sound with our ears. We have to process the information from the ear in the brain. According to this study, hearing loss makes the brain work harder.

There is a well-known association between hearing loss and dementia, with worse hearing being correlated with a greater risk of developing dementia. And it now looks like this problem starts in early adulthood, not late in life.

So unfortunately, I’m going to predict that there will not only be an epidemic of NIHL when today’s young people reach midlife–in their 40s and 50s, not in their 60s, 70s, and 80s–but there will also be an epidemic of early-onset dementia.

When will the public health authorities and regulators–the FDA, CDC, and Consumer Product Safety Commission–take necessary action to protect our young people?

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.