One person can make a difference

Photo credit: Ave Calvar Martinez from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I once attended a lecture where the speaker asked the audience, “Can one person make a difference?” He cited examples of Mahatma Gandhi, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Peering into the darkened auditorium, he continued, “I don’t see any of them in the audience today. But if you have ever tried to sleep on a summer night while one mosquito buzzes around your head, you know that one tiny little thing can make a difference. If you want to change things, you need to be like that mosquito.”

I didn’t think about that lecture for many years, but when I became a noise activist a Google search for “safe noise level” invariably had the occupationally-derived 85 decibel sound level as the most common search result.

After I published an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health about 70 decibels daily exposure being the only evidence-based sound level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, that changed. Now a Google search shows many links to that article or publications citing it, including one from Hyperacusis Research with a picture of me and Bryan. It turned out that the speaker was right, one person could make a difference.

But I think what Bryan Pollard has accomplished proves that point even better than anything I have accomplished.

As Bryan writes in the Summer 2020 issue of Hearing Health magazine, the publication of Hearing Health Foundation, he developed hyperacusis some years ago after tree trimmers took down a large tree extending over his house and then used a noisy wood chipper to pulverize the entire tree, thick trunk included. Hyperacusis is a condition that causes a person to be unable to tolerate everyday noise levels without discomfort or pain. I also have hyperacusis, which developed after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant at a New Year’s Eve party in 2007.

When Bryan found that not much was known about hyperacusis, he started Hyperacusis Research, Ltd. to raise funds to support research into this poorly understood condition. Through his efforts, including organizing a dinner of interested researchers at the annual Association for Research in Otolaryngology meeting, the ENT research community has made great progress in understanding what Bryan has dubbed “noise-induced pain.”

Bryan partnered with Hearing Health Foundation, and then with many others, so his success hasn’t been a solo effort, but it’s clear that nothing would have happened with hyperacusis if Bryan hadn’t taken the initiative to try to do something.

In this summer of our discontent, when demonstrations fill the streets in American cities and cities around the world, it’s clear that public expressions of discontent can make a difference.

If enough individuals make noise about noise, maybe the world can become a quieter, healthier, more peaceful place, 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.

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