Author Archive: GMB

Swedish researchers discover 3 types of nerve fibers in the ear

This image from Gray’s Anatomy is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Science Alert describes how researchers in Sweden figured out that there are three types of Type I nerve fibers in the ear. They did this using sophisticated DNA analysis techniques.

I often say that all research in a broad range of fields adds to our knowledge about noise and hearing and health, but quickly add that no new research, and no more research, is needed to know that noise causes hearing loss and non-auditory health effects including hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and death.

The scientific evidence is strong enough that there can be no rational doubt about this. And anyone who still has doubts about this can join the folks at the Heartland Institute who still don’t think the scientific evidence about cigarette smoking causing lung cancer is strong enough to be conclusive. Or the Flat Earth Society.

For the rest of us, guided by science, let’s aim to protect our ears and preserve our hearing.

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.

Just in time for New Year’s Eve

The Food and Drug Administration approves a drug that calms dogs afraid of fireworks and other loud noises. This is good news for pet owners who have tried–and failed–to deal with anxious pups.

Better news, of course, would be if every local government took the lead of Collecchio, Italy and mandated the use of quiet fireworks, which provide the display people love without the loud noise that torments man’s best friend. Gotta be cheaper than getting on the waiting list for Ford’s (yes the car company) kennel with noise-canceling technology.

Chronic noise exposure linked to heart disease, stroke

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In 2017, research done at Massachusetts General Hospital reported that stress caused activation of the amygdala, a part of the brain involved with emotions, and this in turn was correlated with vascular inflammation and increased rates of cardiovascular disease and death. But to my knowledge, no one had yet linked stress caused by transportation noise directly to increased cardiovascular risk.

At the recent American Heart Association meeting, however, researchers also from Massachusetts General Hospital presented information to make this direct connection.

The adverse effects of transportation noise on health have been reviewed before, but the new report shows yet another mechanism for these adverse effects.

As Mathias Basner, MD MSc, president of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise, wrote in 2016, “[t]he overwhelming majority of noise effect researchers today accept that there is a causal relationship between environmental noise exposure and increased cardiovascular risk.”

This new report is another piece of evidence to support Basner’s statement.

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.

Motorcycle noise is not a first amendment right

Photo credit: Pulicciano licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This story by NPR discusses what will be the last Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride in the nation’s capital. The Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride first took place in 1988, an excuse to ride loud motorcycles through Washington, D.C. to honor veterans and troops killed in action, and to put pressure on the government to do more to find those still missing. The organizers of the Rolling Thunder ride will be organizing their last event in Washington D.C. this coming Memorial Day, 2019. After that, they will celebrate local and regional motorcycle rides but won’t have an organized ride in D.C. because “the event had become too costly and that federal agencies were making it overly difficult to organize.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said, “[t]he department supports the peaceful, lawful exercise of American citizens’ First Amendment rights, and remains focused on ensuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the Pentagon Reservation. The department is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride, as we have for the last 31 years.”

Some might interpret this statement to mean that the Pentagon supports citizens riding noisy motorcycles as an exercise of their free speech. I don’t think this is what those who wrote and passed the First Amendment meant. And I don’t think this is what the Pentagon means, either.

I’m a doctor, not a constitutional lawyer, but I can read the Constitution as well as anyone else. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Honoring veterans and pressuring the government to find those still missing action, and complaining about restrictions on a large, noisy motorcycle event are examples of protected free speech. Motorcycle noise is not.

States clearly have a legal right to regulate motorcycle noise, and according to the American Automobile Association, many do, even if state and local police agencies are reluctant to enforce these laws.

And there’s a federal law as well, namely transportation noise emission regulations. The law is very detailed, with different decibel levels depending on the engine size and purpose of the motorcycle (street use or off-road use) but 80 decibels is a common limit. Many if not most motorcycles exceed this limit.

Motorcycle riders may be a powerful constituency, but they are a minority. Their right to make noise stops at our ears.

If enough citizens exercise our First Amendment rights to complain to elected officials and police authorities, the laws will be enforced and we will have a quieter world.

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.

How to protect your hearing at holiday parties

Photo credit: Maurício Mascaro from Pexels

by G.M. Briggs

British charity Action on Hearing is advising Brits to protect their hearing this holiday by donning earplugs before going to holiday parties.  I agree.  At a recent holiday party, these came in handy:

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Ah, the joy of musician’s earplugs.  Not cheap at $250 (your price may vary), but they are fitted, long-lasting, and the cost may be covered by health insurance or flexible spending accounts. There are a variety of filters (the round white disc you see in the photo), but I opted for 25 decibels.  And while everyone was talking about how loud the music was, for once I was perfectly comfortable.

So have fun this season and enjoy the holiday parties, but don’t leave home without your earplugs!

How to “rock out” with headphones without damaging your hearing? You can’t!

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this article from the Cleveland Clinic, Sandra Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology, offers advice on protecting hearing when using ear buds or headphones to listen to music.

She first notes that hearing loss is 100% preventable, and this might be the only statement that is accurate. Unfortunately, the advice she gives to prevent noise-induced hearing damage is not.

This piece is like an article fifty years ago advising smokers on how to smoke safely. One can’t! There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, and there is no such thing as safe headphone or ear bud use.

Dr. Sandridge notes that many headphones and ear buds can be too loud–most personal music players put out 100-110 decibel sound and some player-headphone combinations can reach 120 to 130 dB–but she implies that 85 decibels is the sound level at which auditory damage begins.

That’s not the cutoff between safe and unsafe sound levels. It’s derived from the NIOSH recommended exposure level for occupational noise, an exposure level that doesn’t prevent hearing loss.

Even in children age 9-11, who haven’t been using headphones very long, auditory damage is already present.

The only way to prevent auditory damage is not to use ear buds or headphones. Or to use Dr. Sandridge’s language:

The only way to rock out with ear buds or headphones without damaging your hearing is not to rock out with them!

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.

Canada leads the way

This photo by Bernard Spragg. NZ has been dedicated to the public domain.

First Edmonton, now Calgary: Calgary to pilot a project that implements a “network of real-time noise monitors” to nab noise polluters.

According to Shawn Logan, Calgary Herald, the city has struggled to control noise, “[b]ut thanks to a technology called LoRaWAN — a long-range, low power digital wireless network which now reaches every corner of Calgary — city IT planners are hoping to harness its potential in a number of areas.”  The network will be armed with “a special type acoustic sensor that could precisely determine noise levels in the city.”

For now, the sensors will be used to gather data to allow the team leading the project to “build in the ability to categorize the types of sounds captured, building a catalog of sounds including traffic, construction, drag racing and even gunshots, while being able to accurately determine its time and location.”

Depending on the quality of the data, and whether the technology will hold up in court, could the network be used to target noise polluters? One would hope, but it’s unclear whether the technology will be used to identify and fine them. We will follow Calgary’s and Edmonton’s efforts to deploy technology in the fight against noise pollution.

 

 

 

Is there sound on Mars?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (not subject to copyright protection)

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This fascinating article by Kenneth Chang in the New York Times describes Martian winds rattling the solar panels on the recently landed InSight lander. The sounds weren’t picked up by a microphone, Chang writes, rather they were captured by seismometers, instruments “designed for measuring the shaking of marsquakes picked up vibrations in the air — sound waves, in other words.” Said Chang, “[t]he seismometers act as the cochlea, the parts of your ears that convert the vibrations into nerve signals.”

It’s not clear to me if a human could hear the wind on Mars–the atmosphere is very thin, and of course a human would have to be wearing some sort of space suit, unlike in the Star Wars movies or Star Trek television shows–but provides an interesting sidelight (or side sound?) to space exploration.

You can listen to the sound, but Chang suggests that you “hook up a subwoofer or put on a pair of bass-heavy headphones. Otherwise, you might not hear anything.”  We advise that you skip the headphones and opt for NASA’s enhanced version:

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.