Monthly Archive: October 2018

Whales and noise

Photo credit: Minette Layne licensed under CC BY 2.0

Finally some good news about the problem of ocean noise, courtesy of The Noise Curmudgeon: The Canadian government is establishing a project to monitor ocean noise and protect endangered whales.

Said Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the minister of transportation, “[a]coustic disturbances, particularly underwater noise from vessels, are a problem for marine mammals such as the southern resident killer whales, who are having trouble finding the salmon, particularly Chinook salmon, that they need to flourish.” The goal is to study propeller noise and hull vibration, “the results of which could inform the design of new, quieter propellers.”

In these turbulent times, it’s good to see a government at least trying to do something to protect our natural environment.

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

October is almost over. October is also National Protect Your Hearing Month.

I’m not big on special days or months. If something is worth doing or someone is worth honoring or worth being concerned about, we should do it or honor them or be concerned about it every day.

My late mother taught me that. Many decades ago, when at our father’s urging we asked her what she wanted for Mother’s Day, she would snap:

This is what I want for Mother’s Day. I want you boys to stop fighting. I want you to make your beds in the morning without me nagging. I want you to clean up your toys. And I want you to come to the table for dinner the first time I call you, not the fourth. Mother’s Day is every day. You can’t be mean to me 364 days of the year and expect being nice on one day to matter.

So that’s my approach to special days and months, including my own birthday and the month of October.

But the special days or months do provide the opportunity to remind ourselves and others of something important.

For National Protect Your Hearing Month, our friends at CDC informed us that on October 19, it released a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) entitled, “Use of Personal Hearing Protection Devices at Loud Athletic or Entertainment Events Among Adults — United States, 2018.” In this report, CDC researchers found that fewer than 20% of American adults used hearing protection when attending loud athletic or entertainment events.

Maybe this is part of the reason why CDC researchers reported last year that a large percentage of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, many without any occupational exposure to loud noise.

Protect your hearing now to avoid needing hearing aids later.

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

Scottish docs to begin prescribing rambling and birdwatching

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Scottish physicians on the Shetland Islands are going to start prescribing birdwatching, rambling, and beach walks to treat chronic and debilitating illnesses.

Being outdoors is good for one’s health and exercise is good for one’s health. As this recent article in JAMA shows, green spaces improve mental health, too.

And being outdoors is probably good for auditory health. As shown by the National Park Service noise map, without human intervention nature is very quiet.

One really doesn’t need any special equipment to enjoy the outdoors. Perhaps a hat, a long-sleeved shirt or a sweatshirt or jacket if it’s sunny or cool, and comfortable shoes.

We should all spend more time enjoying nature, while it’s still here to enjoy.

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

A layperson’s guide to the WHO’s noise and health report

Photo credit: United States Mission Geneva licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by John Stewart  

The new noise and health guidelines (pdf) published last week by the World Health Organisation could prove a turning point in the fight to persuade governments and industry to put in place more effective measures to tackle noise. The guidelines are not legally binding but, given the extent of the health problems associated with noise the report identified, it will be difficult for the authorities to dismiss them out of hand. Although the guidelines were published by the European office of the WHO and strictly apply only to Europe, WHO hopes and expects they will influence noise policy across the world. My summary of the guidelines can be found here (pdf).

The guidelines are tougher than those recommended by the WHO previously. The recommended limits are:

  • Road                    53Lden              45Lnight
  • Rail                      54Lden              44Lnight
  • Aircraft                 45Lden              40Lnight
  • Wind Turbines     45Lden       no recommendation*
  • Leisure                70 LAeq

* WHO felt that there was insufficient evidence to make a recommendation

The guidelines are stricter for air and wind turbine noise because WHO found that people get highly annoyed from these sources at lower levels than for road or rail noise. The benchmark used when recommending the safe thresholds was the level at which 10% of the population became annoyed by a particular noise source. For night noise a lower threshold was used on the basis that sleep disturbance created more serious health problems than annoyance. The night threshold was the level at which 3% of people were “highly sleep-disturbed.”

WHO stressed that, because, in its view, there is not yet enough research to make a recommendation about night noise from wind turbines, it does not mean that they are not causing problems. One of the report’s recommendations is that more wind turbine research is undertaken.

Wind farm and leisure were not covered in previous WHO reports. Leisure noise is harder to define than the other noise sources. WHO broadly defines it as recreational noise, including noise from personal audio devices. In light of existing evidence the WHO recommended that over the course of the year the noise from leisure sources should average out at no more than 70 decibels. It added one important caveat, though: a warning that very high levels of noise at a particular time–for example music at a rock concert–has the potential to damage hearing.

The WHO has made it very clear it does not want its report to sit on shelves gathering dust. It wants it to lead to action and has pointed the way in the report to solutions to reduce the number of people–currently running into hundreds of millions across the world–exposed to unhealthy levels of noise.

The World Health Organisation has done it job. It is over to us now–governments, industries, communities, campaign groups–to make sure we use it to create a quieter and healthier future for everybody.

John Stewart is the lead author of “Why Noise Matters,” published by Earthscan in 2011, and has worked and campaigned in the fields of noise and transport for over 35 years.

Sometimes you just need to find time for quiet

Father Michael Rennier writes about the Carthusians, a religious order started over 1,000 years ago by a young priest named Bruno. Bruno, according to Fr. Rennier, wanted to spend time in silence, but found his work interfered.  So he left his old life behind for the wilderness, and imposed one rule on those few friends who followed him–no talking.

Obviously Bruno’s life style choice is a bit difficult for most people to contemplate much less copied. Instead, Fr. Michael describes five ways that we can protect  moments of silence in our lives, noting that at his death Bruno’s friends “remarked that in place of words, his mouth was always smiling.”

 

 

Protect your heart, protect your hearing?

Photo credit: speedoglyn1 licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in JAMA Otolaryngology reports a correlation between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss in patients over age 80. The correlation was more pronounced in men than in women.

A correlation between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss has been reported for some years. The blood supply to the inner ear can be affected by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), caused by genetics, smoking, diabetes, dietary fat intake, and the passage of time. A compromised blood supply may damage the cochlea, and may make it less able to recover from noise damage.

The study is an exploratory one, with a small number of subjects, and correlation doesn’t mean causation. But if people lead a heart-healthy lifestyle, they may also be protecting their hearing.

Hearing loss is very common in older Americans, with half of those over 65 having hearing loss.

I still think the major cause of hearing loss is excessive noise exposure over a lifetime, but taking care of your heart can’t hurt.

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

Americans aren’t protecting their hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This newly published article from the CDC reports that 1) noise-induced hearing loss from non-occupational noise exposure is common in American adults, 2) recreational activities including sports and musical events are loud enough to damage hearing, and 3) very few American adults use earplugs or earmuffs–“hearing protective devices” in public or occupational health lingo–to protect their hearing.

This is a shame. Hearing loss is largely caused by noise exposure, and noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud. Either turn down the volume, leave the noisy venue, wear earplugs or earmuff hearing protective devices, or wear hearing aids later.

The choice is yours.

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

A fascinating study about restaurant noise

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is a problem for patrons trying to converse with their dining companions, and a common complaint in the Zagat survey.

When ambient noise is loud, people raise their voices to increase the speech to noise or signal to noise ratio to help others hear what they are saying. This creates a positive feedback loop, where everyone increases how loud they are speaking, until it’s so loud that no one can understand anything being said. The phenomenon, called the Lombard effect or cocktail party effect, has been known for a long time.

This study in the world’s most prestigious acoustical journal, the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, adds to our knowledge of how restaurant noise affects understanding of speech. The researchers studied speech in a sound booth at different ambient noise levels. The sound level of speech increased as ambient noise increased. Subjects reported disturbance of speech beginning at 52.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA), with vocal effort beginning to increase at 57.3 dBA. The researchers noted that as background noise increased, it triggered a decrease in the willingness to spend time and money in a restaurant. The researchers concluded that restaurants should have ambient noise levels of 50-55 dBA. That’s a much lower sound level than that in most restaurants.

The study is quite technical, and I have two quibbles with it.

First, it was done in a sound booth. That is ideal for research, but I would be interested to see the study replicated in a real or simulated restaurant environment.

Second, the average age of the subjects was 21, with a range from 18-28. I would like to see the study repeated, even with the same methods, in a population age 58-68, with an average age of 61, or even 68-78, with an average age of 71.

I suspect the findings would be similar, but the decibel numbers would be significantly lower.

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

Teach yourself to echolocate

Photo of Daniel Kish by PopTech licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Jessica Leigh Hester, Atlas Obscura, writes about how we can learn to navigate with sound. Hester introduces us to Daniel Kish, who, after losing his vision as an infant, taught himself to move around with echolocation. You may be aware that bats use echolocation for navigation, and, apparently, so does Kish. Hester writes that he “uses his mouth to produce a series of short, crisp clicking sounds, and then listens to how those sounds bounce off the surrounding landscape.” By employing echolocation, Kish can then map out his environment.

Want to give it a try? Kish teaches echolocation, mostly to blind students, and he gives Hester an introductory lesson on how to get in tune with your sonic environment. Click the link for Kish’s primer.