Author Archive: GMB

Why can’t you hear?

Photo credit: Helena Lopes from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece in the Canadian edition of Psychology Today asks “Why can’t you hear?,” but a better title might be “Why can’t you understand speech in a noisy room?”

This problem is known in audiology circles as the “speech in noise” problem. People can understand what someone is saying just fine in a quiet room, but can’t follow a conversation in a noisy one. The problem has been known for decades, but now it is thought that the cause is cochlear synaptopathy, also called hidden hearing loss because hearing test results–technically known as pure tone audiometry–are normal despite the patient’s complaints of not being able to hear.

The problem can be assessed clinically by a number of tests, including the Hearing in Noise Test and the QuickSIN test. Now researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary have developed two tests, one measuring pupillary responses and the other recording electrical signals from the ear drum.

The inability to understand speech in noise is a frustrating one. Hearing aids usually don’t help much, although newer digital hearing aids with special features claim to do better.

Much better than any hearing aid, though, is preserved natural hearing. Protect your ears. If something sounds too loud, it is too loud. Turn down the volume, use hearing protection, leave the area, or you might have speech n noise difficulty later.

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 young person develops tinnitus from loud music

Photo credit: edoardo tommasini from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from The Irish News discusses TV personality and actor Jamie Laing, who developed tinnitus at age 31 from listening to loud music. He woke up one morning hearing a loud buzzing noise. He searched his house to see where it was coming from, but then realized that it was inside his own head.

This is called tinnitus, ringing in the ears but technically defined as a perception of noise with no external sound source.

Mr. Laing sought medical attention. His discussion of what his doctor said and his reaction to that is a good summary of what many others have said:

“My GP said there were a number of possible causes but exposure to loud music in nightclubs was the most likely one in my case,” says Jamie, who is dating fellow Made In Chelsea star Sophie ‘Habbs’ Habboo (26).

“My GP explained there was no cure, but it would probably go away eventually on its own as I got used to it. There were treatments available to help me come to terms with it, until it did,” says Jamie.

“At first I couldn’t believe I could have tinnitus, I thought it only affected older people or people who were exposed to loud bangs – but it’s more common than people think. I’d been to festivals and concerts and listened to music on headphones – the louder the better when I was younger.

“But I’d never stood next to the speakers at concerts, or been in a band – I’d probably been to a few too many festivals where the music was loud and never worn ear plugs.

“I wish I had now – protecting your ears against loud noise is so important.”

I’m just back from Geneva, where I spoke about the need for regulation of club and concert noise at the World Health Organization consultation on its Make Listening Safe program. WHO is working on these recommendations, including requirements for sound limits and for warning signs about the dangers of noise, and also requiring offer of free earplugs.

Because as with Mr. Laing, most people, young or old, don’t know that exposure to loud music, whether many times or even only one time, can cause tinnitus for the rest of one’s life.

That’s how I developed tinnitus, after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve 2007.

I wish I had known the basic rule: if it sounds too loud, it is too loud! Ask for the volume to be lowered, leave the noisy environment, insert earplugs, or possibly face lifelong tinnitus, like me and Jamie Laing and millions of others.

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.

Harvard Medical School looks at hearing and brain health

Photo credit: A Health Blog licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Harvard Medical School publishes a number of useful, consumer-oriented newsletters and blogs on issues related to health. Sometimes they touch on noise-induced hearing loss and other hearing-related concerns. In this recent blog, James Maple, MD, discusses hearing health and its relationship to brain function. If you’re looking for some insight into this issue that avoids the hype, this is a good place to start. Research has recently shown that there is a clear correlation between diminished hearing and decline in cognitive function. Research is ongoing to determine whether there is a clear causal link between the two and how it might work. What is clear is that that preventing hearing loss is important.

An earlier article in this same publication gives an overview of the emerging market for personal sound amplification products, a market that opened last month thanks to the Warren-Grassley Act passed in 2017 and signed into law in 2018.  This law enables high tech “hearing assistive devices” to be sold over the counter without a prescription at drug stores, via online stores, etc.—for 1/10th the price of typical hearing aids. So now for a few hundred dollars you can purchase hearing assistive devices, try them out, and decide whether they’ll help you (or someone you know whom you suspect needs them). This article provides a useful, non-hyped description of PSAPs that makes good background reading before you begin shopping.

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.

Can hearing aids help prevent dementia?

Photo credit: Vilma Liella licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Can hearing aids help prevent dementia? This comprehensive article in the New York Times magazine section discusses the research suggesting that they might.

Of course, it’s far better to prevent hearing loss in the first place by avoiding loud noise exposure or using earplugs if one can’t avoid the noise. And it’s far cheaper, too.

There are smart phone sound meter apps to measure ambient noise levels, but one doesn’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud. If the noise is loud enough to interfere with conversation at the normal social distance of 3 to 4 feet, it’s loud enough to damage your hearing.

Just remember: 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.

Even with noise limits, loud noise at events still causes hearing damage

Photo credit: Wendy Wei from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Netherlands reports that even with a regulatory maximum noise level for events and concerts, auditory damage still occurred. The Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare, and Sports set the maximum noise level for events and concerts at 103 decibels (dB).

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure levels for noise are 1.5 hours at 100 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and one hour at 105 dBA. A-weighting adjusts the frequencies of sound for those heard in human speech. A-weighted sound measurements almost always are lower than unweighted measurements, with the exact difference depending on a variety of factors.

So 103 dB is pretty high, loud enough to cause hearing loss.

The problem with the Dutch noise levels was that the Dutch regulators somehow assumed that those attending loud events would be wearing hearing protection, but neglected to include this important requirement in information distributed to the public. About half of Dutch concertgoers never wear hearing protection, so they must be sustaining auditory damage, including noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.

The trade association representing music venues, concert halls, and event organizers maintains that it is the responsibility of those attending events and concerts to protect their own hearing, but I disagree. I think it’s the responsibility of governments and public health authorities to protect the public, or at least to give them complete and accurate information. Not “caveat auditor”!

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.

Quieter electric planes are already in the air

Photo credit: Matti Blume licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Some readers think electrically-powered aircraft are a wild-eyed futuristic idea—not so! Quieter all-electric, battery-powered aircraft are already flying. Most of these are one- or two-passenger planes but they demonstrate the viability and economic attractiveness of battery-powered electric planes. This video shows you ten models you can buy and fly now:

Perhaps the most exciting one in this video is the 11-seat (9 passengers plus two pilots) Israeli-designed “Eviation Alice” which is intended for commercial, commuter flights. The first customer for the Eviation Alice, CapeAir, based in the eastern U.S., signed up in mid-2019 and has placed an order for delivery in 2022.

The big player in this transformation to electric aircraft is not an American company. It’s Germany’s Siemens. So far Boeing and it’s engine-maker GE are not doing anything in this space, just sitting on the sidelines and waiting for somebody else to go first. But with Boeing’s GE-powered 737MAX completely and indefinitely grounded worldwide, perhaps that partnership isn’t in a mood for innovation right now.

Electric propulsion of larger airliners—the kind of planes most of us ride like Airbus A320s, etc.—won’t arrive until battery technology takes the next big leap. But Tesla’s Elon Musk is a major player in that effort, so keep an eye on him in this sector, too. He’s not just a car and rocket guy, he’s also keenly interested in electric aircraft.

Airports are certainly not quiet now, and the FAA seems to be working hard to stall improvement. But no matter what the FAA and regional airport authorities do, the electric revolution in aircraft is showing that quieter, more fuel-efficient flight is closer than we might have thought!

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.

Warning labels work

Photo credit: Aeveraal licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Consumers want relevant information about products they buy, and warning labels work. That’s the message inherent in this New York Times report on food warning labels for salt, fat, sugar, and calories in Chile. Chile has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. With health care costs for obesity-related medical care soaring, the government decided to take action and began requiring black octagonal warning labels on the front of food packages. The laws also banned junk food sales in schools, and prohibited television ads for unhealthy food between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Of course, the big multinational food companies who market candy, snacks, sodas, and fruit juices protested and lobbied against the legislation, but it passed and was signed into law.

Guess what? Junk food consumption is down 25% in Chile, and other countries are contemplating passing similar legislation.

I am convinced that if warning labels were required on personal listening devices and accessories like earbuds and headphones, people would use them less. I would suggest the following: WARNING: USE OF THIS DEVICE CAN CAUSE HEARING LOSS.  But I’m sure other wording might be more effective.

It’s obvious that the device manufacturers, like the junk food vendors, don’t care about consumers. All they care about is profits. It’s up to governments to protect their citizens, as Chile has done. That’s their job.

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.

AARP focuses on musicians and hearing loss

Photo credit: Alex G licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Noise-induced hearing loss afflicts people of all ages, but since it’s cumulative and incurable, the greatest burden falls on older people who have incessantly exposed themselves to loud noise in their careers and due to recreational choices. Such is the case with many stars in music and entertainment. AARP recently reviewed research from Germany that analyzed the heath insurance records of 7 million people from 2004 to 2008 and found that “working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than those in any other profession”…. and they were “57% more likely to have tinnitus brought on by their work.”

Hearing Health magazine also recently reported on this and included a list of a dozen well-known performers who’ve given up music due to hearing loss.

So if you’re wondering why some of your favorite rock stars aren’t touring any more, it’s possible they simply can’t hear what they’re performing. Sure, everybody knows classical composer Ludwig von Beethoven wrote—and even conducted–some his finest work after he was completely deaf. But if you’ve read about him, you would also know how profoundly unhappy he was about it.

Our ability to hear isn’t self-repairing–once you’ve blown your ears, they’re gone for good. So it’s good news that AARP seems to be awakening to the problem of noise-induced hearing loss. They’re big and powerful enough to get things done in Washington DC, where the health effects of exposure to loud sound was swept under the rug nearly 40 years ago. It’s definitely time for AARP to pay attention!

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.

Why are spin classes so loud (and does it matter)?

Photo credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Why are spin classes so loud? This post on The Cut doesn’t really answer that question, but it does a nice job of explaining the dangers of excessive noise for auditory health.

A few years ago I had email exchanges with two researchers who study the effects of noise on athletic performance. Music with a specific beat can help rhythmic activities, like running or spinning at a constant pace, but despite common belief there is no evidence that loud music makes anyone run faster or lift more weight, or in this case spin faster.

Even if music does improve performance–or people think it improves their performance–those theoretical advantages are outweighed by almost certain auditory damage, including hearing loss and tinnitus.

I’m glad the author of this piece had a best friend who became an audiologist and educated her about the dangers of noise. Because if the noise in your spin class–or any exercise class, or really anywhere at all–sounds too loud, it is too loud.

And if the noise is loud enough to be painful, it’s dangerous for your ears. Period.

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.

Sarasota restaurants are getting louder, too

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is a major problem for diners, now being the leading complaint in the latest Zagat restaurant survey. And this article from Sarasota Magazine says it’s a problem there, too.

The writer makes the common error citing the 85 decibel occupational noise exposure limit as the sound level at which auditory damage begins, noting restaurant noise levels of 92 decibels at one popular restaurant. Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise level to prevent hearing loss.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of exposure at 85 A-weighted decibels* to prevent hearing loss. And a typical restaurant meal lasts 90-120 minutes, depending on the speed of the service, the dining choices, and whether one lingers beforehand over drinks or afterwards for coffee and dessert. So all diners at the restaurant were at risk of hearing loss.

Is this a real problem? Yes! In 2017 the CDC reported that 24% of American adults had noise-induced hearing loss, most without significant occupational noise exposure.

Choosing a quieter restaurant, as an economist friend suggested, isn’t a realistic option. In most cities, there are few if any quiet restaurants, and a less noisy one is the only option if one wants to eat a restaurant meal.

It’s clear that restaurant noise is an example of market failure, and that regulator action is needed to protect diners’ auditory health.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements 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.