Monthly Archive: April 2019

The impact of hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I usually don’t listen to podcasts or watch documentaries–they take too much time to transmit the information that I can read in a fraction of the time–but this discussion of the impact hearing loss by Michael Wilkes, MD, isn’t available in a print version.

I heard the tail end of Dr. Wilkes’ weekly radio segment in the car, and looked online to find the rest.

It clocks in at under 4 minutes, and it’s well worth listening to.

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.

Consumer Reports continues to focus on noise and health

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Consumer Reports continues to cover issues of noise and health, which is a good thing. The only problem with this Consumer Reports article is that falls into a common trap and cites the occupational recommended exposure level of 85 A-weighted decibels for application to the public. This is a misuse of the occupational exposure recommendation that is sadly all too common.

Noise is different from other occupational exposures, e.g., ionizing radiation or toxic solvents, because exposure continues outside the workplace, all day long, all year long, for an entire lifetime.

In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure level for the additional exposure time–24 hours a day instead of 8 hours a day at work, 365 days a year instead of 240 days in the factory, to calculate that the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss was a time-weighted average of only 70 decibels.

The EPA did not adjust for lifetime exposure, probably because in 1974 the life expectancy of a man was only 67 years.  But with people living on average to near 80, the additional years of noise exposure may account for the very high prevalence of hearing loss in older people.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, covered this topic, and I wrote about it in the American Journal of Public Health in 2017. In a requested blog post, I explained additional reasons why the real safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss has to be lower than 70 decibels.

I recently had this insight: the World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure daily because after only one hour it is impossible for the listener to achieve the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss, which is the EPA’s 70 dB daily noise dose.  An occupational noise calculator shows this calculation. So, 85 decibels isn’t safe for workers’ hearing, and it certainly isn’t safe for the public.

Our ears are like our knees–we only have two of them–but unlike knees, our ears can’t be replaced. So protect what you have and remember: it is 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.

Does chocolate prevent hearing loss?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This story in the Daily Mail says that chocolate may help prevent hearing loss, due to chemicals called polyphenols in chocolate. I’m not going to waste any time tracking down the original scientific article.

Over the last few decades, powerful computers and better statistical methods have made it easy–in the opinion of many scientists, too easy–to sort through large amounts of data to find interesting correlations or associations that in many cases are only random, even if they meet statistical significance and have some theoretical basis to explain why the association may be a causative one. I would put this “study” in that category.  Junk science about junk food.

I know that many people think chocolate is a health food, but too much chocolate will cause obesity, diabetes, and dental caries.

And to prevent hearing loss, why not just avoid loud noise or use hearing protection if you can’t avoid the noise. Because that’s actually safe and effective.

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.

What’s the best ear plug?

Photo credit: Your Best Digs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What’s the best ear plug? The best ear plug should be easy to use, convenient to carry so it’s always available when needed, and effective. It’s the same approach as recommended for birth control, except that instead of preventing pregnancy (and sexually transmitted infections if condoms are used), the goal is preventing hearing loss.

This article at NoisyWorld discusses the advantages of inexpensive foam, wax, and silicone earplugs, including information about noise reduction ratings. These fit in pocket or purse, so they are always available if needed. And they are inexpensive, so can be replaced when no longer effective, or if lost.

In the end, the best ear plug is the one that you will wear. Find hearing protection that works for you, because 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.

San Jose tackled two noise problems in one meeting

Photo credit: Tim Wilson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In San Jose, California, the City Council recently considered two separate community noise issues in the same meeting: leaf blowers and train noise. Either the Council members are brave, because they’re willing to take on two typically nasty and intractable battles at once, or they were in for a nightmare meeting they didn’t anticipate!

Read the San Jose Spotlight article above closely and you’ll see that California actually has some tools available to regulate noise that many other regions of the U.S. do not, such as the California Air Resources Board and a statewide cap-and-trade program. Either of those programs could fund a “buy-back/Buy-Quiet” program that would remove polluting gas-powered leaf blowers and other gas-powered outdoor maintenance equipment and substitute electrical alternatives. That could accelerate the state-wide regulation of small gas-powered devices. In fact, California is far ahead of the rest of the country in regulating this equipment, with about 70 cities in the state having already addressed this problem

According to the San Jose Spotlight, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Mountain View have already banned gas leaf blowers and roughly “70 cities across California have some restrictions on gas leaf blowers, including Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.”

What about train noise? The train-noise issue is entirely separate. But it turns out that the regulatory agency did NOT consult with local neighborhoods before they increased night-time train schedules. So San Jose caught the agency on a technicality.

Either way, this must have been an interesting City Council meeting in San Jose, and we wish the city’s citizens good fortune!

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.

600,000 Finns affected by traffic noise

Photo credit: Mihis Alex from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As many as 600,000 people in Finland are affected by road traffic noise, according to a report in the journal Ympäristö ja terveys (Environment and Health in English). That is a fairly large number in any case, but Finland is a small country and that’s more than 10% of the population..

The report uses the word “annoys” to describe one of the impacts of road traffic noise on people, but I think the word “disturbs” is more accurate. Unwanted noise, including road traffic noise, doesn’t just bother people, it makes it hard to concentrate, hard to communicate, hard to relax.

And noise is much more than an annoyance.  Exposure to road traffic noise is strongly correlated, probably causally so, with a wide variety of medical conditions, including hypertension  obesity, diabetes and heart attack.

Fortunately, in Finland’s harsh climate, houses are well-insulated and much of the year windows are rarely opened, so road traffic noise is less of a problem than in more temperate climate zones.

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 possible treatment for tinnitus

Photo credit: This photo is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Tinnitus is “ringing in the ears,” or, more technically, the perception of sound when there is no external auditory stimulus. The current theory is that tinnitus is located in the brain, possibly abnormal electrical patterns, although the exact locus and lesion are not known.

This report from Finland describes the use of trans-cranial magnetic stimulation to treat patients with severe tinnitus. Like most similar reports, it is very preliminary.

Tinnitus has many causes, but the most common cause is noise exposure. This may be via a one-time exposure to loud noise or associated with noise-induced hearing loss caused by chronic noise exposure. In either instance, tinnitus can be prevented by avoiding noise exposure.

While it’s exciting that there is a potentially promising treatment for tinnitus in the offing, I must point out that avoiding the need for treatment is always the better option.

So remember: if it sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect your hearing.

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 one bites the dust

Photo credit: rufus licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Newsday discusses rocker Mark McGrath’s hearing loss. Unfortunately, he joins many other rock musicians who report hearing loss in mid-to-late life after years of noise exposure.

Noise-induced hearing loss is an occupational hazard for musicians, especially those who play popular music, but it is entirely preventable. A musician can’t avoid loud music, but use of earplugs can prevent or at least reduce hearing injury.

Because 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.

Explore the sounds of Yellowstone

Photo credit: Frank-2.0 has dedicated this photo the public domain

Cities and Memories has launched their newest project, a sound map of Yellowstone national park. Once again, Cities and Memories provides captured sounds of “everything from grizzly bears and coyotes through to the park’s iconic geysers and steam vents,” and couples them with reimagined sound pieces by artists from around the world. Be sure to set aside a few hours to explore the sound map!

Sound strategy

Photo credit: Robin Hall licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I know a good line when I steal one, but I always give credit. This article in EFA magazine has both a great title and good information about designing spaces in which older people can converse more easily.

The principles of universal design state that all facilities should be designed to be used by everyone–young, old, tall, short, fat, skinny, and completely abled or not–and the design of the space should include its soundscape. So why not apply these principles to all interior spaces–and not just spaces dedicated for older peopleand design spaces that allow everyone to speak and be heard?

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.