Monthly Archive: March 2019

What to do if you hear sounds that others do not

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

Finally, David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition, addressed a query from a woman who said she heard a sound in her living space that her partner insists wasn’t there:

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

The Quiet Coalition recently received an inquiry from a woman who said she hears “a nearly imperceptible high-pitched sound” in her living space. She states that she can hear the sound, but her partner insists there is no sound. “Could a smartphone-based sound-meter app isolate and identify this sound?” she asked, adding “if so, which one do you recommend?”

First, I must note that the fact that this woman hears noise but her partner does not means nothing at all. Her partner could simply have much less sensitive hearing!

We at The Quiet Coalition agree that the best step is to try to measure the sound. There are free or inexpensive sound meter apps that you can install on your smartphone, so start there. Some are better than others, but thankfully, experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tested and rated smartphone sound-meter apps, which we reported on last year.

But a smartphone app may not be sensitive enough to pick up the sound. What should you do if this is the case? The only alternative could be to find an acoustics engineer to visit your residence and use professional equipment to identify the noise and then help you identify the source. That person can also suggest some ways to address the problem—which could be a neighbor’s electronics. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants offers advice on how to select a professional, licensed acoustical engineer.

There is, however, another possibility that must be considered: hearing a high-pitched sound that no one else hears COULD mean that you have a hearing disorder called tinnitus or an acute sensitivity to sounds called hyperacusis. Tinnitus can be identified by first finding a truly quiet place, such as a library, or on a weekend retreat in the countryside, to see if you still hear the noise when you are away from the circumstances where you are aware of the sound.

40 million Americans have tinnitus (myself included), so it’s quite common. And many of us spent years assuming that the “background noises” we heard were actually coming from the environment and that everybody heard the same thing!

So we recommend that you pursue both of these steps, because exposure to noise can be stressful, can cause sleep loss, and can have other health effects.
First try to determine where an unseen source of high-pitched sound in your environment is coming from. If the sound cannot be isolated, then consider that the cause of the sound could be tinnitus or another hearing disorder that should be attended to.

Frankly, the best result would be that there really is an unseen source of high-pitched sound in the immediate environment. Why? Because that can be fixed once the source is identified. But tinnitus cannot be cured, though there are techniques for managing it—which include avoiding the kinds of exposures that may have caused it in the first place. And know that the onset of tinnitus can be quite sudden.

To learn more about tinnitus check out the American Tinnitus Association‘s website and the Clinical Practice Guideline for Tinnitus published in 2014 by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

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.

A charming story about community and silence

Photo credit: trolvag licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Dr. Daniel Fink wrote this post about a recording project in Cremona, Italy that required the cooperation and participation of all the residents, and how they all rose to the occasion:

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful article by Max Paradiso in the New York Times describes an ambitious recording project in Cremona, Italy. Paradiso writes that the project aims to digitally record the violins crafted there centuries ago, preserving “the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen.” And to do this, the streets surrounding the auditorium where the recording is taking place must be quiet.

One wishes all cities could make similar efforts.

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.

It’s no secret–we don’t like delivery drones

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

Or, at the least, the idea of fleets of drones delivering drek no one really needs while polluting our environment with a constant high-pitched whirr.  Here’s a post about this avoidable dystopian future from January:

We have written about why we think wide scale use of delivery drones will not happen here, here, here, and here.  And now we have to repeat ourselves, as we share a recent report by Mariella Moon, Engadget, about how Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, can’t unleash its delivery drones onto the world until it remedies “one of the biggest complaints about it first.” The complaint, of course, is that the drones are noisy.  Moon writes that people who live “directly under the drones’ path in rural Australia where they’re current being tested described the sound they make as ‘chainsaw gone ballistic.’”

Really? Surely a small drone can’t be that horrible? Except it’s not just one drone, it’s a fleet of drones, and yes, it is horrible. Moon writes:

Apparently, the machines create so much noise that people don’t even use their yards anymore. In addition, dog owners are avoiding areas where they pass, because the drones make their dogs nervous. Not to mention, the noise could trigger PTSD symptoms in military veterans.

So Wing is going to try to make a quieter drone. In the meantime, it is slowing down the drones and trying to vary the flight paths so that they don’t continue to enrage the poor souls who live near their testing facility. Fortunately for the rest of us, Moon notes that “it’s going to take a while” before Wing can design that mythical quiet drone.

Meanwhile we wonder what compelling need is being served by drone delivery. Sure, being able to deliver life saving medicine to a remote location would be fabulous, but let’s be realistic, most drones are going to deliver consumer goods or fast food and the drones are meant to reduce human labor costs and encourage impulse buying. That is, there is no compelling need. It’s all just a lot of noise.

The sound of winter

Photo credit: Valdemaras D. from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful essay by Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times discusses the differences between winter in Maine and winter in New York City.

Boylan writes that when she ventures out “on a subzero morning in Maine, it’s the silence that strikes me first.” No doubt it is a sharp contrast with the sound of the city in winter. In fact, Boylan adds, “[t]he most dramatic sound up north is the one that I almost never hear in New York City: the sound of nothing at all.”

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.

Taking a short break

Please enjoy some stories from this past year, like this one on the search for lost sounds:

Photo credit: Stas Knop from Pexels

Nicholas Rivero, Quartz, writes about sounds that have been lost to time because humans have only had the ability to record sound since the mid-1800s.  Says Rivero:

That means a great many noises—the call of the wooly mammoth, the first words of early humans, the music of ancient cultures—have fallen silent forever. But thanks to the efforts of a dedicated cohort of scientists, historians, programmers, musicians, and everyday enthusiasts, some lost sounds are making a comeback.

And what follows is a romp through the past, accompanied by links to YouTube videos that let you hear the reconstructed sounds and learn how they were rediscovered. Well worth the click.

Thanks to Lisa Kothari for the link.

Restaurant noise could cost customers

Photo credit: James Palinsa licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Mary Bilyeu, The Toledo Blade, shows that noisy restaurants aren’t just a problem in coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.  The reporter also notes that many people avoid noisy restaurants, and, as the headline intimates, this might be costing the restaurants customers.

The only problem is that as long as most restaurants are busy enough, restaurateurs have no incentive to make them quieter. This is true even when most people want quieter restaurants, which makes this a clear-cut case of market failure crying out for regulatory intervention.

The article also mentions someone’s older parents who use hearing aids and couldn’t converse in a noisy restaurant. I believe that restaurant noise is a disability rights issue and that needs regulatory intervention, too.

If enough people complain about restaurant noise to enough elected officials, often enough and again and again, eventually restaurants will become quieter.

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.

Another drug trial to prevent noise-induced hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This press release from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says that the medical school is receiving a $10 million grant from the Army to test whether an epilepsy drug can prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

The study population includes patients undergoing surgical procedures requiring use of noisy drills and police officers.

While I’m glad that people who can’t avoid loud noise may have an option that will offer them some level of protection, for most of us it’s a whole lot easier to prevent noise-induced hearing loss by just avoiding exposure to loud noise.

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.

Quiet Victory: D.C. bans gas-powered leaf blowers

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some years ago Quiet Communities was contacted by Quiet Clean DC, a group trying to pass a law banning gas-powered leaf blowers in the nation’s capital. Members of The Quiet Coalition, including Jamie Banks from Quiet Communities and me, gave testimony or submitted statements in support of the proposed legislation.

It passed the City Council and, after the required waiting period for congressional action (because laws passed by the City Council in Washington, D.C. require congressional assent), it recently became law.

Congratulations to Quiet Clean DC on this important victory.  If our nation’s capital can become a cleaner and quieter city, your city can do so, too.

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.

NJ town using hefty fines, threat of jail to stop dog barking

Photo credit: Mircea Iancu from Pexels

Allison Pries, NJ.com, reports that Saddle River, New Jersey is changing its ordinance against dog barking to provide for heavy fines and time limits. Pries writes that under the amended ordinance, residents cannot let their dog “bark, howl or yelp for more than 20 minutes between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. or for more than 15 minutes between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.”  Violators will be subject to fines of up to $1,000, up to 90 days in jail, or up to 90 days community service.

Pries writes that one incident, which no one would comment on, led to the ordinance change. In the end, the town couldn’t enforce its previous ordinance because there were no time limits.

Well, now there are time limits and hefty punishments, too. The borough administrator, Jerry Giaimis, however, asserts that the penalties are similar to over 200 other New Jersey communities, and adds that although a judge will have to make the call as to how to punish violators, he can’t see anyone going to jail over their noisy pooch.

Consumer Reports tackles tinnitus

Photo credit: Frmir licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Hallie Levine in Consumer Reports discusses tinnitus. The advice is generally sound, with one exception–the article states that “any noise over 85 decibels can damage hearing.” This isn’t accurate.

The auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels (dBA), and 85 dBA is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Recommended Exposure Level for occupational noise, not a safe noise exposure level for the public. I wrote about this in the American Journal of Public Health and the NIOSH Science Blog also covered this topic.

But the basic message is correct: avoid loud noise, protect your hearing, and you won’t develop tinnitus from noise exposure.

And 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.