Monthly Archive: January 2020

Popular Science looks at hidden hearing loss

Photo credit: Maurício Mascaro from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This well-written article in Popular Science discusses hidden hearing loss. Hidden hearing loss is caused by damages to the nerve junctions between the cochlear hair cells and the auditory nerves. It’s called “hidden” because the damage isn’t detected by standard pure tone audiometry tests, only by more sophisticated testing. Patients complain that they can’t understand what people are saying in crowded or noisy situations, but the audiologist tells them, “Your hearing is fine. There’s no problem.” For decades, this was known as the “speech in noise” problem.

It turns out that there is a problem, and it’s caused by damage to the nerve junctions, which interferes with processing of the sound by the nervous system.

The problem of understanding speech in noise, which is most likely a manifestation of hidden hearing loss, isn’t rare. Approximately 10-20% of adults appear to have it, and it may even be more common in those of middle-to-older age.

More evidence supporting the need for us to protect our ears from loud noise.

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 in a name?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet?”

Definitions are very important for thinking, and their importance has been discussed by philosophers since the time of the Greeks.

This article in The New York Times reports on an effort by a manufacturer of the food additive monosodium glutamate to have Merriam-Webster redefine “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” to delete the reference to MSG. The article quotes a spokesperson for Merriam-Webster, who in an email stated, “We record the language — we do not create, sanction or promote any specific words; the language’s speakers do this, and we provide a record of this use.”

I understand the frustration of the MSG manufacturer, because I am engaged in a similar effort to redefine noise. The most common definition of noise, based on the American National Standards Institute definition, is “noise is unwanted sound.” This implies that a perception of a sound as noise rather than as meaningful sound is purely subjective, in the ear of the listener–if I may coin a phrase–with a further implication that there is something wrong with those who complain about sounds that others don’t find bothersome.

My proposed new definition is “noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.” The new definition makes explicit the fact that noise causes harm to people and animals at sound levels beginning as low as 30 A-weighted decibels*, and causes both auditory and non-auditory health effects. I summarized that information in the Fall 2019 issue of Acoustics Today.

I haven’t reached out to the folks at Merriam-Webster, nor started a social media campaign to effect this change, but maybe I will.

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.

Dining without the din

Photo credit: Julia Kuzenkov from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

After The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote in favor of restaurant noise on January 22, at least in part a response to a blog post I had sent him a month earlier that he referred to in his fourth paragraph, I heard from a number of my noise contacts around the country.

Mr. Wells didn’t mention my name, but the language he quoted was so familiar to those who know my thoughts about restaurant noise that most of the emails asked, “Dan, was that you?”

Of course it was.

One of my noise contacts suggested writing a letter to the editor. I hadn’t done that because in these days of impeachment trials and global warming and coronavirus, why would a newspaper print a letter about restaurant noise?

But with his encouragement, I did.

My letter didn’t get printed, but this one from former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel did.

It turns out that Mr. Frankel was the one who suggested that food critics write about restaurant noise many years ago.

And Mr. Frankel said exactly what I wanted to say, only so much better!

The headline the Times provided for the letter, “Dining Without the Din,” is a phrase that I will use in the future.

In four words, it captures exactly what I, and most of those commenting on Mr. Wells’ column, want.

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 Guinness World Record for the most destructively stupid event?

Photo credit: Harmony licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Americans are famous abroad for being loud. Maybe it’s because we’re all going deaf from exposing ourselves to environmental noise? Doesn’t help that Guinness, the irish brewery, has been sponsoring the “loudest stadium” competition for years now, goading American football fans to make as much noise as possible. Why? Two reasons, of course:

  1. To confuse the home team’s competition by making it impossible for their players to hear the plays being called, (otherwise known as poor sportsmanship), and
  2. To compete for the Guinness Record for “loudest stadium crowd noise.”

I understand the allure of setting a world record in something, anything, however dumb. But why make yourself deaf in the process? The article above says the loudest they’ve recorded so far in the stadium hosting the upcoming Super Bowl was 128 decibels—that’s enough to permanently damage your hearing.

So is Guinness legally responsible for inciting the loud behavior by offering the Guinness World Record for loudest stadium? Or are stadium owners responsible for promoting the effort?

And who should be filing law suits? How about the players’ union? For players—the focus of that noise–hearing loss from stadium noise–is a genuine, recognized occupational hazard, though one that OSHA may not be attending to yet. Or should fans–including children–seek compensation for being unwittingly exposed to destructive noise without being informed or offered adequate ear protection?

We wonder how much longer this pointless and destructive Guinness record will continue to be promoted. It needs to stop but probably won’t until somebody takes Guinness and local stadium owners to court. Noise exposure is a serious public health threat, and far too many Americans are completely unaware of it or are complacent.

I hope you’ll enjoy the SuperBowl this year—without threatening your hearing!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Is noise pollution harming your health?

Photo credit: wp paarz licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is noise pollution harming your health? That’s the question Prof. Richard Neitzel, PhD, asks in this article for the BottomLineInc. Prof. Neitzel is associate chair and associate professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Noise pollution is similar to air pollution, except that both the public and health professionals are generally unaware of the non-auditory health effects of noise. These include cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and increased mortality.

And of course, noise can cause hearing loss. Prof. Neitzel’s research has shown that everyday noise exposure is great enough to cause hearing loss.

Personal hearing protection, i.e., earplugs, can help prevent hearing loss, but making the environment quieter will require government action.

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.

Is restaurant noise a problem?

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

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is restaurant noise a problem? I think so, and I’m not the only one who does. According to the Zagat surveys over the last several years, noise is the first or second most common complaint of restaurant patrons. Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema also thinks restaurant noise is a problem, and give decibel readings and comments about noise in his reviews.

But New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, responding to a blog post that I had sent him doesn’t think so.

I may be making a mistake in writing this–there’s an old adage that one shouldn’t argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton–but I feel compelled to reply.

Wells’ argument, in a nutshell, is that he really doesn’t think restaurant noise is a problem and generally likes louder restaurants. Wells says that he doesn’t have trouble conversing in a noisy restaurant, and thinks restaurant noise is a sign of people having a good time.  Wells opines that people prefer livelier restaurants and are uncomfortable with silence. In the end, he thinks the problem may be that restaurants may be the only place in modern life where we can’t control the noise, and that bothers people. But he believes restaurant noise is a feature, not a bug, and restaurant noise is the happy sound of people having a good time sharing a meal with each other.

I disagree, of course. I live in Los Angeles, not New York, so it’s possible that there are differences between the coasts, but I don’t think so. I think restaurant noise is a problem and prefer quieter restaurants where I can talk with my dining companions. Unfortunately, they are almost impossible to find. I have tinnitus and hyperacusis, so loud restaurants are downright painful for me. Restaurants are noisy by design, whether the culprit is an open kitchens, hard surfaces, or tables crowded together in a low-ceilinged room, often accompanied by background music turned up to rock concert levels. Yes, noise can create a sense of action or excitement. and hospitality literature shows that restaurant noise increases food and drink sales and turnover. But Zagat surveys show that many diners find restaurant noise to be a problem. I think many patrons would prefer quieter restaurants. And no, it’s not a control issue, it’s a comfort issue. We don’t want silence, we want enough quiet so we can enjoy the food and the conversation without damaging our hearing.

I usually don’t read the online comments to newspaper articles, but a few of my noise contacts suggested that I look at the comments to Wells’ piece. I’m glad I did. On Thursday morning there were over 876 comments and the overwhelming percentage–approximately 95%–agreeed with me that restaurant noise is a problem. Several commenters raised the same concerns.  Namely, that restaurant noise is a problem for those with hearing loss, especially older people, whether they wear hearing aids or not, restaurants don’t have to be as noisy as they are, European restaurants are much quieter, and going to a restaurant for a meal is about the food and conversation. Others stated that they walk out of noisy restaurants or won’t return to them, and many were aware that noise is used deliberately to reduce time spent at the table and to increase alcohol sales.

Mr. Wells column is titled “Is Restaurant Noise A Crime? Our Critic Mounts a Ringing Defense.” No, restaurant noise is not a crime, but restaurant noise is a major disability rights issue for those with hearing loss and other auditory and non-auditory disorders. If enough of us would complain to elected officials about restaurant noise and quiet restaurant laws are passed–or if a sympathetic plaintiff finds a good disability rights lawyer–restaurant noise could soon be a violation of the law. And for the sake of everyone’s dining comfort and auditory health, I hope that day is very soon.

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.

Preliminary report on the CDC’s review of noise and health

Photo credit: Lukas from Pexels

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

Prof. Richard Neitzel, PhD, University of Michigan School of Public Health, a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, has published an article that provides a preliminary review of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s systematic review of global literature on the effects of noise on 11 different health conditions.

We eagerly await a final report on this important study.

In the interim, visit Prof. Neitzel’s website and take a look at some of his other work on noise and health, particularly his new project with Apple Inc.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Sound and the city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech

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.

Noise in classrooms interferes with learning

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

After reading Dr. Paul W, Bennett’s article entitled “Are noisy Canadian classrooms hindering students,” I contacted him at the Schoolhouse Institute in Halifax, Canada. I indicated to him how surprised I was to read his article that “excessive classroom noise and disruptions remain largely undiagnosed and understudied in Canadian kindergarten-to-grade-12 education,” in light of the fact that I had conducted research and written extensively on the impacts of noise in classrooms for over forty years. I also added that were other studies similarly highlighting the need for quiet in classrooms.

We discussed his article in which he cited a global student survey conducted in 2018 that found that nearly 40% of Canadian students reported…”noise or disorder in most or all of their classes.“ Dr. Bennett said that this number was far more that that reported by Japanese and Korean students where the figures were low (under 10%). The figure for the U.S. was around 28%. While my writings primarily examined the impacts of noise from external and internal sources–namely, rail, airport, and poor acoustics in schools–Dr. Bennett also wrote about the disciplinary climate of the class contributing to “loudness” in classrooms. He also added that a deteriorating classroom environment can contribute to student bullying, absenteeism, and psychological harassment.

As a former professor of education, author of books on education, and director of an institute interested in improving the quality of education, Dr. Bennett thought it was important that Canadian educators become more aware of the effects of noise classroom disorder on student learning. Dr. Bennett was familiar with my research on the impacts of noise on classroom learning and I offered my assistance as he moves forward with his goal of stressing the importance of a quieter and more orderly school environment.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

 

Sociopaths on snowmobiles

Photo credit: Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Ontario’s BayToday discusses the problem of snowmobile exhaust noise there. Specifically, snowmobilers there are modifying exhausts with minimal decreases in weight but maximum increases in noise. Since most of Ontario’s snowmobile trails cross private land, the landowners bothered by the noise are closing down their trails, depriving snowmobilers with unaltered machines of their winter activities.

I’ve gone snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in remote locations, too remote or too steep to have snowmobile trails. The silence of the wintry landscape, broken only by the rustle of the wind in the bare trees and an occasional bird cry, is beautiful.

It’s a shame that sociopathic snowmobilers–winter’s equivalent of motorcycle riders with modified exhausts–are disturbing the forest quiet even more than those without modified snowmobiles.

The solution is simple: enforce existing laws against modifying snowmobile exhausts. Or to really make a change, enact laws allowing for confiscation of modified snowmobiles and the problem will cease.

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.