Author Archive: GMB

In their defense, they just wanted some sleep

Photo credit: M J Richardson licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Angry Edinburgh residents, enraged by unending road work noise, pelted workmen with baked beans, haggis.

While the reaction may seem unwarranted, Stian Alexander, reporting for the Daily Record, writes that the drilling only ends at 11:00 p.m. and the noise continues as work doesn’t end until 3:00 a.m. The bosses at the City of Edinburgh Council are undeterred by the residents protest, however, as the work–and noise–will continue for at least another week.

Genetic susceptibility to hearing loss from noise exposure

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The Hearing Journal reviews research on genetic susceptibilities to hearing loss from noise exposure. The author notes that 34 genetic variants have been reported to show an association with increased susceptibility to hearing loss from noise exposure. She concludes that “[f]urther work on the genetic and cellular bases of NIHL could enable the characterization of individual susceptibilities and help prevent this widespread disease.

Actually, additional work isn’t needed to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).  Additional research is always good, but the molecular bases of NIHL are very well understood.

Even better understood is how to prevent it: Avoid exposure to loud noise, leave the noisy environment, or wear hearing protection of one can’t do either. The CDC states that NIHL is 100% preventable.

Because noise exposure causes hearing loss, and if something 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.

Starting January, help comes to the hard of hearing at your local drug store

Photo credit: Kateweb licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

This New York Times article is a wake-up call to all Americans with hearing loss: Starting January 2020, and for 1/10th the price of conventional–and ugly–hearing aids, you can buy “hearing assistive devices” at your local drug store or directly online. The innovation economy has finally come to the hidebound hearing aid industry!

And we can thank a genuinely bi-partisan team in Congress for making this happen. Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, teamed up in late 2016 to write the “Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act,” pushed it through both houses of Congress, and in 2017 convinced President Trump to sign it.

Thank you Senators Grassley and Warren!

What this Act does is tell the FDA to keep its regulatory hands off of a new class of hearing-assistive devices called “personal sound amplification products,” or PSAPs. PSAPs are miniaturized, multi-featured wireless high-tech in-ear devices that do lots of things conventional hearing aids don’t do, and all for about 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Maybe deregulation works after all!  In this case, it’s good-old-fashioned bi-partisanship that got the deal done.

So if you or a loved one really need hearing aids but haven’t been able or willing to spend the $5,000 to $10,000 the hearing aid cartel has been charging, now’s your chance to tune into the world of sounds you or they have been missing. Check it out!

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.

A revised definition of noise for National Protect Your Hearing Month

Photo credit: Chris Fithall licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, and I am using the occasion to propose a revised definition of noise: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

For many decades, noise has been defined as “unwanted sound,” a phrase usually attributed to the late acoustics pioneer Leo Beranek. The problem with this definition is that it implies that the perception of noise is subjective. This means that those complaining about noise have no real basis for their complaints, other than a personal reaction to noise.

The new definition acknowledges that noise can be harmful to human health and can interfere with human activity. Even if a noise is merely unpleasant, that experience is stressful.  Recent research shows that stress causes vascular inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

The revised definition is supported by my article in the Fall 2019 issue of Acoustics Today, summarizing the evidence-based noise levels affecting human health and function. My article makes it clear that there can be no rational doubt that noise is harmful, and unwanted noise especially so. Sounds as quiet as 30-35 A-weighted decibels (dBA) can disrupt sleep. A good night’s sleep is important for health and function. Forty-five decibel (dB) sound can disrupt concentration and interfere with learning. At 55 dB, non-auditory health impacts of noise begin, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and increased mortality. These effects are best studied for transportation noise, but are seen with occupational noise exposure. At 60 dBA ambient noise, people with hearing loss have difficulty understanding speech. At 70 dBA, those with normal hearing also have difficulty understanding speech.

Seventy dB time-weighted average for 24 hours is the only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss, but the actual safe noise level is probably lower than that. And 85 dBA is the occupational recommended noise exposure level, not a safe noise level for the public. And as I notedin my article, the World Health Organization recommends only one hour exposure at 85 dBA daily to prevent hearing loss. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, this is mathematically the same as 70 dB time-weighted average for a day.

Hearing loss is very common in older people, but I’ve learned that this isn’t part of normal physiological aging. Rather, presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is largely noise-induced hearing loss.

So what can you do to protect your hearing? There are two ways to protect hearing: avoid loud noise, and if you can’t, use hearing protection devices.

We only have two ears, and unlike knees they can’t be replaced. So if a noise sounds too loud, it IS too loud. And if a noise is so loud that one can’t converse without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

And always remember that noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound

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.

A call for quiet fireworks

As Guy Fawkes day approaches ushering in bonfire season in the UK, a Bradford city councillor has called for the council to consider making a law to restrict loud fireworks displays and require quiet ones.

We have written about quiet fireworks before, noting that noise is part of the design of traditional fireworks. But as Councillor Jeannette Sunderland asserts, “[t]he manufacture of fireworks has progressed and it is now possible to hold displays and events of quieter fireworks which can create ‘quieter’ displays, ‘low noise’ displays or silent displays which reduce the noise nuisance and impact on others in terms of acoustic stress.”

It’s not impossible to remove some noise from our lives without giving up things that people enjoy.  Fireworks are, primarily, a visual display.  While there are those who may love the noise that accompanies the brilliant display, by limiting it the experience can be enjoyed by many more people.

Then again, if we consider the overall impact of a fireworks display, maybe it’s time to move on to something a bit less destructive.

The quest for quiet dining

Photo credit: Jane023 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Brooke Randle in the Mountain Express, Asheville, North Carolina, discusses the problem of restaurant noise.

There’s nothing really new in Randle’s story, but any report that spreads the word about the problem of ambient noise in restaurants is important.

Because if a restaurant sounds too loud, it is too loud. And if enough people understand this, and complain to their elected representatives about restaurant noise–as we did about being forced to breathe secondhand smoke in restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s–eventually restaurants will be required to be quieter, just as they are now required to be smoke-free.

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.

New York City tries to deal (again) with nighttime contruction noise

Photo credit: Tomwsulcer has dedicated this photo to the public domain

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

The New York Times reports that the building boom in New York City has been accompanied by a “noise boom,” especially with the increase in overnight work.

A construction boom, given the difficulty of doing construction work in Manhattan, has led to an increase in the number of variances being requested to allow nighttime construction work. Although the New York City Noise Code includes a section pertaining to construction noise rules and regulations, it is the Department of Buildings that oversees the issuance of variances to the Noise Code rules and regulations.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera understands the adverse health impacts of noise. As reported in the New York Times, she has introduced a bill to the City Council that would limit construction work to no earlier than 6 a.m. and no later than 10 p.m. on weekdays, with weekend construction limited to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with some variances allowed for utility and government projects. As to whether this legislation will pass, is a difficult question to answer in a city where developers and the real estate industry have strong political influence.

Ms. Rivera asserted that the Department of Buildings does not have enough employees to review all the permit applications for variances it receives. As a result, it may have issued variances without much consideration about how construction noise would affect those living nearby. There was, sadly, no indication in this story that the Department of Buildings asked for additional staff to more effectively review the applications. The one response from a department spokesman, was that “no one likes construction” but that the after-hours permits were “necessary to a growing city.”  Such a statement appears to be dismissive of the accepted knowledge that noise is hazardous to both mental and physical health.

What is clear in the literature with respect to health and well-being is how dependent our health is on a “good night’s sleep,” something that is certainly being denied to those exposed to the growing New York City nighttime construction noise. Furthermore, a city like New York, proud of its diverse and talented workforce, should also be aware of the fact a loss of sleep can decrease work productivity the next day.

We wish Ms. Rivera success, and a quieter night to all in New York City.

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.

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.

 

This is your brain on noise pollution

Photo credit: Paul Mison licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Joel Pavelski, GQ, writes about his experience doing a month-long sound fast.  Pavelski recognized that he was “suffocating [himself] with sound,” by constantly wearing headphones to listen to music, podcasts, or YouTube videos.  He realized that his sound over-saturation was making him “forgetful, distracted, and overwhelmed.” And then, Pavelski, writes, he hit his saturation point:

In March, I finally reached true sensory overload. I met a friend at Midtown bar, where we planned to work on our respective book proposals. The place was packed, and I couldn’t hear myself think over the clamor: people around us were laughing, waitresses were slinging dishes and drinks, a playlist of loud top 40 hits competed with a televised basketball game for the patrons’ attention. I put in my headphones and queued up a podcast and tried to focus, thinking I could retreat to my (even louder) safe place. But after a few minutes, I felt so overstimulated that my body started to tremble. My heart started to race and my breath came in short gulps. My fingers felt tingly. I thought I was about to pass out.

What follows is Pavelski’s experiment with no podcasts, no listening to music, no extraneous noise other than the “natural” noise of New York City.  And what he found was that when he took time to just sit and take the world in without distraction his brain “felt blissful and busy, lighting up with challenges to solve, reframing and reorganizing possibilities.”

Click the link to read the whole thing.  It’s well worth your time.

Why do certain sounds bother some people?

Photo credit: LuAnn Snawder Photography licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some people are bothered by common sounds that don’t bother others, such as noise from chewing. The technical name for this disorder is “misophonia.”

For many years, misophonia has been thought to be a psychological problem, but new research shows that the problem may be neurological in origin. People with misophonia have differences seen on brain scans from those without misophonia.

Medical science is replete with examples of diseases thought initially to be due to psychological causes, but later found to have biological bases. For example, stomach ulcers were long thought to be caused by stress, with a contribution from spicy food or alcohol, but then they were found to be caused by bacteria.

In the auditory field, hyperacusis–a sensitivity to sound, in which noises that don’t bother others are perceived as painful by those with this condition–was also long thought to be psychological. Then researchers found pain fibers in the auditory nerves, and the biological basis of this condition was better understood.

So kudos to the researchers studying misophonia. For those who suffer from this disorder, having the science world focus on identifying the biological basis for the problem may be the first step to treating it.

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.