Why would someone want quiet fireworks, you may ask? Pet owners know that cats and particularly dogs can be adversely affected by fireworks, but humans are at risk as well:
For people, loud fireworks can lead to hearing loss. The World Health Organization lists 120 decibels as the pain threshold for sound, including sharp sounds such as thunderclaps. Fireworks are louder than that.
Dr. Williams also sees higher traffic to his clinic after Independence Day. “We usually see a handful of people every year,” he said. “In these cases, hearing loss is more likely to be permanent.”
And Dr. Williams added that children are more vulnerable to hearing loss from fireworks because they have more sensitive hearing. So if you are going to a fireworks display this weekend, enjoy it safely and bring ear plugs for the whole family.
And the advice offered by Anne Sommer, an audiology clinical instructor at Purdue, that double hearing protection–foam ear plugs and ear muffs–should be used when setting off personal fireworks is sound.
I would only add that if double protection is needed for an unnecessary task, the more prudent option is to avoid exposure. After all, one really shouldn’t set off personal fireworks unless one is willing to accept the loss of an eye or a finger. Fireworks, which are banned in Los Angeles, are inherently dangerous and are really best left to the pros.
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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.
Yesterday was Bonfire Night in the UK, a time spent with friends and family, lighting bonfires and enjoying fireworks displays. As in the U.S., people look forward to the parties and displays, but they worry about how the noise makes their pets anxious and fearful. Here’s a useful piece from The Warrington Guardian that looks at how pet owners can protect their stressed out pets.
Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, as the noise causes them to hide or howl with fear and anxiety. Trish Hernandez, The Taos News, tells you how you can protect your dog from this trauma. Her article offers a number of helpful solutions to help your pooch make it through the upcoming fireworks season (which can run all summer long in places like New York City).
First and foremost, Hernandez strongly suggests that you not leave your dog home alone, noting that “[d]ogs with phobic reactions to fireworks can easily panic and injure themselves in the process….[and] [m]any panicked dogs find ways to escape from their yards and can be further injured or killed while running loose.” That said, your home is the best place for your dog, and staying with him or her will help to keep them distracted (and a few extra treats won’t hurt). Hernandez also gives advice for people with multiple dogs, noting that “if one dog already exhibits a fearful or phobic response to the sound of fireworks, [you should] separate the dogs so that non-fearful dog does not “catch” the fear.”
It’s not just pets who suffer from firework noise, humans can too. An editorial in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise notes that “[t]he booms and bangs of fireworks can be particularly harsh for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” adding that “[t]he sound of gunshot-like noises can trigger flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and even suicide.”
While taking steps to ease the trauma for humans and dogs is the obvious course, maybe we need to think about logical long-term solutions, like avoiding the trauma in the first place. For example, we could advocate for a ban on loud fireworks like the thoughtful residents of Collecchio, a town in the province of Parma, Italy. The local government there “introduced new legislation forcing citizens to use silent fireworks as a way of respecting the animals” by reducing the stress caused by noise from conventional fireworks.
That is, instead of each of us trying to protect humans and animals from the trauma of loud fireworks, we could protect everyone by requiring the use quiet fireworks. Quiet fireworks have existed for decades, and they are just as vivid and colorful as their conventional cousins. But unlike conventional fireworks, they don’t traumatize animals or people or cause hearing damage.
Cat Bowen, Romper, looks at whether fireworks can hurt babies’ ears. Bowen, who is deaf, has a daughter who is hard of hearing, so she is particularly concerned about the impact of noisy fireworks, writing “that what little hearing we have, we want to protect at all costs.”
Bowen points to a Boys Town National Research Hospital report which states that “fireworks register at over 140 decibels of sound” and recommends safe distances for adults and children. Bowen writes that adults “need to be about 65 feet away from the fireworks to be considered safe,” but it’s more than double that for a child.
But what about babies? Bowen says that “it’s different with babies,” because there is no hearing protection gear made for infants under six months. So “[c]an fireworks hurt your baby’s ears?” “Absolutely,” says Bowen, who recommends that you limit your baby’s exposure, try using protective headphones, and “keep you and your baby as far from the fireworks as you can while still enjoying the view.”
Ford has designed a noise-cancelling kennel aimed at easing the anxiety and fear dogs experience during fireworks displays. It’s attractive and no doubt achieves its goal, but it’s also an expensive piece of kit that will be out of reach for most dog owners.
So kudos to Ford for looking out for man’s best friend, but why don’t we protect all dogs by demanding quiet fireworks instead?
Why the warning? Because some summer activities could cause exposure to hazardous noise levels. Stefanie Valentic, EHSToday, writes that “Ball State University audiologists are warning people to use hearing protection during activities that may expose them to hazardous noise this summer such as mowing the lawn, concerts and fireworks.” “[P]eople may suffer irreversible damage to their auditory systems after only brief exposure,” says Ball State audiology professor Lynn Bielski. Her colleague, Professor Blair Mattern, adds that “[e]xcessively loud noise, music or other sound exposure will damage our hearing. We need to take responsibility and protect it.”
Ed Pfeifer, TribLIVE, would agree. He asserts that ear protection now will pay huge dividends down the line. Pfeifer writes about the “crazy amount of abuse” the human body can take and yet continue to function. But, he adds, eventually there is a price to pay. For Pfeifer, the price was a “very slight drop” in his ability to hear. And the cause of his hearing loss? Pfeifer speculates that:
Numerous rock concerts, excessive gunfire and front row seats at the stock car races have all left their mark on the lobes on the sides of my head. But, I use power tools all the time and if I was a betting man I’d put my money on those tools as the main culprit.
He notes that “[c]hainsaws and circular saws run at about 110 decibels, most table saws hover around the 104 mark and the average confrontation with teenage children, 127.” Pfeifer knows he can’t go back in time and tell his younger self to wear ear protection, but he is doing that now “to preserve every last bit” of what hearing he has left.
So the best advice this summer–and every summer–is to protect your hearing today so that you have it tomorrow. If you use loud lawn and garden equipment, find quieter replacements—they exist–or, at the least, don’t start an engine before you put in a pair of earplugs or don ear muff protectors. And if your idea of summertime fun includes outdoor concerts, fireworks displays, or an afternoon at a race track or your workbench, always have a supply of earplugs handy. Ultimately, we must assume responsibility for our hearing.
Doctors say kids are at higher risk for hearing loss. Dr. Rachel Wood, an audiologist with the LSU Health and Sciences Center, studies and treats hearing loss patients, and increasingly she is seeing younger patients. Dr. Wood says that there are a “growing number of factors that cause hearing loss.” One particular concern is that “[c]hildren especially can plug into their phone and crank up the volume, turn up the sound effects on video games, or even watch rock concerts on their computers.”
Dr. Wood finds headphones to be “especially troubling,” stating:
There are tiny sensors in your inner ear that are very sensitive. Loud sounds damage those sensors, and if they’re destroyed, they will never grow back, which leads to hearing loss. The amount of damage is based on the volume of the sound and how close the sound is to your ear. Since headphones put the sound right next to those sensors, it magnifies the damage.
So what can you do to protect your child’s hearing? Dr. Wood suggests that parents set volume limits on electronic devices such as phones. She also advises parents to impose time limits for using headphones and have their children take a break every 30 to 60 minutes. Finally, if your children are going to events with loud noises, such as concerts or fireworks displays, hand them a pair of ear plugs. Purchased in bulk, ear plugs are a cheap and easy way to protect your children’s hearing.