Monthly Archive: June 2018

Hearing-related problems are common among preschool teachers

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anyone who has seen a bunch of schoolchildren, in a park or a museum or a zoo–perhaps anywhere other than a library–knows that they can be noisy. And noise exposure causes hearing problems.

This report from Sweden discusses the high prevalence of hearing-related problems among preschool teachers there, including hearing loss, difficulty understanding speech, and sensitivity to noise.

The findings have to be replicated in other countries–maybe Swedish kids are noisier than others?–but the report shows that noise is a ubiquitous occupational hazard, even for preschool teachers.

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 from 2015-2018.

The sounds of the unicorn of the sea

Alan Burdick, The New Yorker, writes about how researchers were able to tag six narwhals and capture the sounds they made over the course of the week, creating “an intimate sonic document of the life of the narwhal.” The researchers identified three types of sounds the narwhals make. The “first two, clicking and buzzing, are used to navigate and to hone in on prey,” and the third sound, calling, the researchers believe is used to communicate to one another. 

You can listen to them here.

 

Big decreases in smoking and soda consumption, is noise next?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported that the smoking rate in the U.S. is the lowest ever reported since this information started being collected. Only 13.9% of American adults are smoking. Unfortunately, this still means that there are 30 million smokers in the U.S., but this is great progress since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was issued in 1964.

Recent reports also indicate that efforts to educate the public about the dangers of soda consumption, combined in some cities with taxes on sugary beverages like soda, have also led to reductions in soda consumption.

Will noise be next? In 2016, the CDC recognized that noise exposure was a hazard for the public, not just for workers exposed to noise. There still is no federal recommendation, guideline, or standard for noise exposure for the public, unlike National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendations, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, for noise exposure for workers.

But at least CDC is looking at the issue, after research showed that noise-induced hearing loss is occurring in people without occupational noise exposure, and we hope some specific guidance about noise will be issued soon. And we hope that this advice–as with smoking and soda consumption–will lead to decreased noise exposure, and decreased hearing loss, in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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 from 2015-2018.

NYC’s public data program shows noise is number one 311 complaint

, Civicist, writes about the New York City Council’s new 311 calls and requests map. The map is one of many that provides visualizes data “to make district information more easily accessible to lawmakers, advocates and the broader public.” The 311 calls map allows the viewer to see how many calls to 311 in the last month were for common complaints.  No surprise, noise is a top complaint, so much so that they offer three categories–noise, noise–residential, and noise-commercial–to further categorize the complaint.

This data project is a good step towards allowing easy access to important information.  Armed with the data, maybe government can finally do something about the most common complaint.

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.