Coronavirus Pandemic

Could a drug being developed to prevent hearing loss help fight COVID-19?

Photo credit: Martin Lopez from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As those who follow my writings know, I’m a big believer in the old public health principle that prevention of disease is almost always better and cheaper than treating it. That principle applies to hearing loss. Preserved normal hearing is much better than the best hearing aid, and costs almost nothing–just avoid loud noise or use hearing protection.

But we follow developments in treating or preventing hearing loss caused by noise exposure. The Holy Grail for this research is a drug that people could take after noise exposure, to prevent any lasting auditory consequences. One of these drugs under development is called Ebsalen.

This new report in the peer-reviewed online journal ScienceAdvances discusses repurposing Ebsalen to fight COVID-19 infection.

We think that may be a better use of Ebsalen than its originally intended use.

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.

 

 

 

 

On balancing outdoor dining and neighborhood peace

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Recognizing the difficulties restaurants have faced during this horrific pandemic, New York City has provided increased outside dining spaces for these restaurants. Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that “[t]he success of our neighborhood establishments is central to our entire city’s success.” Acknowledging that complaints will follow these outdoor dining activities, however, he set up an office to deal with potential complaints. This office entitled Mediating Establishment and Neighbor Disputes (MEND NYC) will be overseen by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Undoubtedly, one of the complaints that will be brought to MEND NYC will center on the intrusions of loud sounds from these outdoor eating establishments on nearby apartments and homes. It is hoped that nearby neighbors and restaurant owners will be able, with the assistance of MEND NYC, to participate in a mediation process that will resolve complaints. While noise has been a major complaint in New York City, we need to understand that at this time with an overall increase in stress in our city’s residents, there may be less tolerance of nearby noises intruding in their lives.

Thus, I have to raise several questions at this time. Will MEND NYC have someone on its staff familiar with the noise issue in New York City? Will that person know that citizens calling 311 in the past have reported that their noise complaints have not led to satisfying resolutions? The 2018 noise report produced by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli supports these concerns raised by callers to 311.

Noise impacts on an individual’s mental and physical health and well-being and its impacts are exacerbated during a time of added stress. Will there be a psychologist on the staff of MEND NYC who has the appropriate background to assist mediators as they work with individuals who are being adversely affected by noise? Restaurant owners are under much stress financially and they too would benefit from the experience of a psychologist.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is an agency that deals with noise complaints. Will someone from the DEP be part of MEND NYC? Will MEND NYC provide data, easily accessible to New Yorkers, that will give them some idea of how successful its mediation program has been? Data reflecting success will give New Yorkers greater confidence in the program.

The goals of MEND NYC should be applauded. My questions about the program are being raised to facilitate the attainment of these goals.

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.

A natural experiment on home field advantage

Photo credit: Robert Britt licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have written about “experiments of nature” or “natural experiments” before. These events occur when something happens to set up an experimental situation that scientists would never be able to accomplish in other situations. The return of professional sports may provide such an experiment of nature.

Statistical analysis shows that there is a home field or home court advantage in baseball, football, and basketball. In major league baseball, during the 2018 season the home teams won 52.6% of games. This ratio of 53% wins at home and 47% wins on the road has held steady since 1945 according to Baseball Reference.

In professional football, from 1993 to 2012, home teams won just under 60% of games. Lineups.com reports that the home team wins by an average 3 point margin, 55-60% of the time.

In professional basketball, during the 2018-2019 season, home teams won an astounding 71 % of games. The average from 1998-2008 was 60.6% according to BleacherReport.com.

One of the factors thought to play a role in the home field advantage is crowd noise. The home crowd’s noise encourages the home team, and when the crowd makes noise to annoy a batter or interfere with the visiting football team hearing the quarterback signal calling, that has an impact too.

But as professional sports resume play without any fans in the stadium or arena, there is no home crowd to make noise.

The NBA season is being played in Disney World for now, so that’s a different sort of natural experiment. But baseball and football will be played in the usual venues.

At the end of the different sports’ seasons, we might be able to gain some insight into whether it’s crowd noise or something else that provides the home field advantage.

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.

Noise returns to New York City

Photo credit: Chris Schippers from Pexels

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

When the pandemic hit New York City in full force in late March and then worked its way into April and May, city residents began to speak of a positive result of the lockdown—the city sounded quieter. There were far fewer construction sounds, car honks, and gatherings of people on corners. Instead of overhead jet blasts, people in Queens could hear birdsong. But the increased ambulance sirens were painful reminders that illness had befallen this city and cities around the world.

It is now August and the quiet has passed, according to this New York Magazine article by Justin Davidson. Davidson writes that New York City is getting loud again, and he welcomes the return of intrusive sounds because they indicate that people are now going back to work and construction and repairs of buildings are no longer on hold. Davidson believes the quiet that hovered over the city during lockdown wasn’t really pleasurable. The evening streets lacked sounds of laughter, music from nearby restaurants, and even disagreements between people passing by, Davidson writes, while acknowledging that there were loud sounds at 7:00 p.m. celebrating the wonderful hospital workers tending to the sick.

Now Davidson finds himself bothered by nearby generators and its pulsations, which he says are “nudging my heartbeat to accelerate, like an IV drip of bad news.” His article cites research that demonstrates that such noise can affect mental and physical well-being, and notes, citing Emily Thompson’s “The Soundscape of Modernity,” that noise was one of the outcomes of urbanization. Yet, he found that when he visited a rural area, he encountered a number of noises in that environment as well.

This article also presents the opinion of critic Kate Wagner, which appeared in The Atlantic, who believes responses to sound speak to our social and political views in that fights over noise may be fights over “power and control.” Newcomers to certain quieter communities may advocate for more night life in the area while others moving into the city from the suburbs want a quieter town. Wagner, according to Davidson, believes that attempts to “shush” a city amounts to the “imposition of suburban values on an urban context.”

Davidson concludes his article by aching for the return of the sounds that characterized New York City before the pandemic. Then, he says, we will know that the city has “healed.”

While I, too, want to hear the wonderful sounds of the city again—children laughing, baseball fans shouting, and sounds of crowds leaving theaters and waiting for autographs of their favorite actors—I also believe that we should continue to advocate for the lessening of the din, e.g. lower construction tool sounds, less car honking, and the like.

A less noisy New York City will still be an exciting, vibrant city and a healthier one as well.

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.

Does coronavirus affect the auditory system?

This image is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Does coronavirus affect the auditory system and the vestibular system that regulates balance? Two recent articles suggest that it might. The research is very preliminary and based on small numbers of subjects, so the results must be interpreted with extreme caution.

The only problem may be that the treatments for coronavirus may also cause auditory damage, especially certain antibiotics with known auditory nerve toxicity, and also unproven therapies like hydroxychloroquine.

The best way to avoid having your auditory system affected by coronavirus is to avoid getting sick.

Follow the recommendations of public health experts, shown to be effective in European and Asian countries: wear a mask, maintain social distance, avoid large crowds and indoor spaces if possible, don’t touch your face, and wash your hands frequently.

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.

Lockdowns drastically reduced seismic noise

Photo credit: Hrag Vartanian licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

How ironic that a pandemic that devastated the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide resulted in an opportunity to conduct research to monitor the earth’s movements in ways that may provide information to protect the earth and its inhabitants from here on.

New research from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, the Imperial College London, and other institutions has found that dampening of seismic noise caused by humans, especially in more densely populated areas, has dropped by as much as 50% in some places, allowing researchers to listen in to “previously concealed earthquake signals.” The quiet time brought on by the pandemic was the longest time that “human-caused seismic noise” had been lessened since researchers had been monitoring the earth’s sounds. Now that researchers were able to tune in to the natural sounds of the earth, they believe the information provided by these sounds will enable them to gain a greater understanding of potential earthquakes and volcanoes.

To those of us who have advocated for less noise and greater quiet in our environment, largely based on the growing body of literature that has demonstrated the adverse impact of noise on mental and physical health, we welcome these new studies that provide us with another avenue of research to support our efforts.

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.

Noise complaints on the rise in NYC

Photo credit: Dan Nguyen licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

New York City, the city that has long been known to be noisy, is even noisier, according to an article by Shaye Weaver. Weaver writes that since February of this year, noise complaints in the city have increased “an astonishing 279 percent.” Firework noise was the overwhelming complaint in June, but complaints about loud music and parties led the list overall. The Bronx had the most complaints, with Staten Island registering the fewest.

Weaver states that “2020 has been a year like no other.” The pandemic has indeed changed the city and the lives of the residents in this city as well as people worldwide, in many ways, and 2020 will be known from now on as the “Year of the Pandemic.”

Weaver’s article doesn’t mention how the New York agencies that deal with noise complaints, mainly the Department of Environmental Protection and the police department, have been responding to the 311 noise complaint calls that have been directed to them. As someone who hears from New Yorkers who have not had their noise complaints resolved, I can say that I have had increased calls about noise in communities. My callers have reported to me that loud parties are being held near their homes and apartment buildings and there has been no interest from police or public officials to address their complaints. I have also been hearing from individuals who are organizing groups in their areas to give them a stronger voice when they approach public officials and community boards, and I have offered advice and asked to be kept informed about the activities to lessen the din.

I thank Weaver for her timely article and hope that she would do a follow-up focusing on the agencies responsible for addressing noise to ask how they are dealing with this large increase in noise complaints. We have laws on the books that have been written to curtail noise but unless they are enforced, they have little, if any, value.

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.

Beluga whales sing better in a quiet ocean

Photo credit: Diliff licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I first saw beluga whales in the aquarium in Vancouver, Canada, and then last year in the wild in Canadian arctic waters. They are marvelous creatures, with a bulbous head that helps them vocalize and hear the vocalizations of other belugas.

A National Geographic television show discusses research showing that belugas sing better in quieter oceans.

For belugas, noise from ship motors is like ambient noise in a too-noisy restaurant. It makes conversation difficult.

Quiet is better for both animals and people.

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 deal with noisy neighbors during COVID

Photo credit: Adrian Black licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

The subtitle of Kelsey Mulvey’s article in Real Simple on how to deal with noisy neighbors rang out to me: “Put the peace back in peace and quiet.” Noisy neighbors have long been a problem for people living in both private homes and apartment dwellings, but Mulvey notes that the stress of working from home during the pandemic may increase one’s need for greater quiet in the evening when one wants to relax. So how do we maintain the peace in an effort to seek quiet?

Mulvey’s article, based on advice from Erik Wheeler, a mediator at Accord Mediation in Vermont, focuses on how people can deal with noisy neighbors at a time when they are “on edge” and in need of advice that will not result in a screaming match or worse. He stresses that the individual making the noise may not be aware that sounds from their living space is intruding on a neighbor nearby, the person bothered by the sound must be ready to explain why some quiet is needed, and he or she must speak in a voice that is friendly and polite. Remember, Wheeler advises, have a conversation with your neighbor, not a confrontation. In New York City, some managing agents and landlords have sent out memos to dwellers urging them to make less noise during these difficult times which would facilitate requests to neighbors to “tone it down.”

I would also like to point out that the pandemic has increased the likelihood that neighbors working from home will experience noises from neighbors during the day that they had not heard before because they were at their workplaces. Then the pandemic came and those daytime noises, e.g. very young children running around and playing, were being heard for the first time. That is, there is a need to explain to neighbors that sounds from their dwellings are making it difficult to work.

On the other hand, people who are working from home for the first time have to realize that sounds they are now hearing during the day did not intrude on others before this pandemic. Now, their neighbors are being asked to alter established patterns of behaviors, and the behavior of their children. This will take even more understanding on the complainant’s part as well as patience.

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.

The urban soundscape during COVID

Photo credit: Life Matters from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This thoughtful essay from Kate Wagner, writing for The Atlantic, discusses the push-pull forces affecting the urban soundscape. Wagner lives in Washington, D.C. She contrasts the quiet of her neighborhood during the COVID-19 lockdown with the noise of a Black Lives Matter demonstration near the White House.

With a background in acoustics, she had measured sounds a while ago. She noted a 6 decibel decrease in daytime noise. It was as quiet during the day as it had been at 2 a.m. She then goes on to discuss the tension between the desire of many for urban quiet, so they can hear the birds and not be woken from sleep, with the needs of commuters, delivery workers, etc., and juxtaposed with understanding the need for noise during demonstrations.

I am aware of research showing that the effects of urban noise fall disproportionately on poor populations and on people of color, but hadn’t thought about the inescapable fact that these impacts are not random, but are the end result of decades of government policy decisions. As Wagner notes, noise is stressful and causes adverse health effects.

We can hope that one of the outcomes of the current social turmoil will be a quieter, more peaceful, and more equitable world for all.

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.