Design

New research shows health benefits of exposure to birdsong

Photo credit: sue licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

Researchers affiliated with CalPoly University and the Max Planck Institute designed a “phantom sound” method to systematically explore the effects of
exposure to birdsong on the well being of hikers in a natural landscape. Guess what: just the sound of birds singing makes a significant difference!

The method used for this study echoes Jesse Barber’s brilliantly-conceived and widely-acclaimed “phantom road” research at the University of Idaho that showed the effects of highway noise on birds’ migratory and feeding habits.

Both of these research projects brilliantly demonstrate the importance of careful experimental design in doing noise-effects research. Congratulations to the participants in both projects! They will both advance the need for regaining control of the long-neglected issue of noise exposure.

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.

When hearing aids don’t work

Photo credit: ikesters licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

Many people with hearing difficulties delay getting help because they’re told hearing aids don’t work. But in my experience, properly fitted hearing aids can improve communication and quality of life for people with hearing difficulties.

Hearing aids are worn on each ear and come in different styles. Prescription hearing aids are selected so amplified sound and chosen features are best for all shapes and sizes of hearing difficulties in all ages. Retail hearing aids are meant for adults with mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss which is a common pattern across causes.

There are different reasons people think hearing aids don’t work. Some issues depend on the hearing aids, while others depend on the person wearing them. Unless there is a health reason that requires that they only wear one, it’s best to get a pair. Like ears, hearing aids should be in pairs for best sound audibility, localization, and communication.

Were the hearing aids fit by a hearing healthcare professional? If yes, then they were chosen to work based on individual testing results and the person’s reported difficult listening situations in daily life. Retail hearing aids won’t work if the wearer doesn’t have mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss.

Do the hearing aids have basic hearing and communication features? Basic or entry level prescription or retail hearing aids should include directional microphones for paired hearing benefits and a telecoil or hearing loop feature. Hearing aids without directional microphones won’t work well in daily life, and hearing aids without hearing loop compatibility won’t work in settings offering disability access.

Do the hearing aids offer modern digital technology? Current entry level features in behind the ear hearing aids, which start at around $1,000 per pair, include more than one listening program for quieter and noisier environments and wireless connectivity to other devices. Some hearing aids include sound therapy for people with tinnitus or decreased sound tolerance, i.e., hyperacusis. Many now have rechargeable batteries with an overnight recharging station which is a plus for convenience and the environment. Old technology hearing aids don’t work nearly as well as modern technology aids.

Were the hearing aids properly manufactured? Even brand new hearing aids can be lemons. While prescription hearing aid manufacturers typically meet international amplification acoustics standards, quality control is voluntary for manufacturers selling directly to the public with no Food and Drug Administration oversight in the U.S. Problems are common even among popular retail manufacturers, with defect rates of 100% for amplification under $150 and 66% defective when under $500 per hearing aid. New amplification sound quality problems include static and distortion, over-amplified or too loud, no high frequency amplification, broken volume control, malfunctioning directional microphones, and faulty telecoils. In my opinion, too many hearing aids sold directly to the public are poorly made and don’t work as advertised.

Does the wearer have hearing system distortion? Some people, especially with a history of noise exposure, have hearing loss with sound processing damage where sound becomes distorted or unclear while travelling up the hearing nerves to the brain. This happens after sound is amplified, meaning people feel their hearing aids don’t work because they still can’t hear or converse easily, especially in ambient environmental noise environments.

Are the hearing aids In-The-Drawer style? ITD style hearing aids worn only seldom or occasionally don’t help much. People with hearing loss need to practice hearing amplified sound again in their daily life. With regular use, people hear better with amplification than without, even in noisy or difficult listening situations.

The next time somebody says hearing aids don’t work, don’t forget there is often more to the story. Did the person get well manufactured hearing aids that meet their individual hearing and communication needs? Do they have realistic expectations of hearing aids? If not, a visit to a hearing healthcare professional could be helpful for problem-solving and guidance.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

Do new sound control products work as good as they look?

Photo courtesy of abstracta

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

It’s wonderful to see architects, designers and manufacturers developing attractive ways to address noisy homes and offices! But it’s important to note that architects and designers know little or nothing about acoustics at all—they’ve never been taught it. So the products they develop are often simply visual barriers that have very little acoustical effect.

Sound, like water, will leak through any hole on a surface, so no matter how thick a product is if you’re on one side and a noise-making person or piece of equipment
is on the other, you are definitely going to hear what’s going on!

You can also buy sound curtains–you can find a selection by running a simple internet search. Typically they’re made for industrial settings where exposure to loud noise is actually regulated by OSHA. So many sound curtains may not be very attractive, unless they are covered with a cosmetic treatment like another layer of fabric.

If you are interested in buying sound control products, be sure to ask what the sound rating is of any designer sound screen or curtain. Because if the designer and/or manufacturer haven’t bothered to have their product tested by a licensed testing lab, their product is probably not going to be very effective.

Please note that the European Union, where noise is regarded as a health hazard, puts noise level labels on 50 classes of products ranging from dishwashers and food blenders to power tools and construction equipment. But Americans never see those labels because they aren’t included on products entering the US. Why? There is staunch and powerful resistance among American manufacturers to making noise ratings available to the public. This is an old battle. In the 1980s, several major industries fought back against the EPA, which was required by the Noise Control Act of 1972 to publish noise ratings. Result: they’ve never done so.

In fact, that may be a good a reason to buy products that are manufactured by EU companies, because you can get noise ratings from their corporate websites.

Caveat emptor!

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.

How to make virtual meetings more accessible for the hearing impaired

Photo credit: Anna Shvets from Pexels

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

Virtual meetings have become the standard during the pandemic and participants have reported that at times it is difficult hearing others because their microphones are cutting in and out. But for the hearing impaired, virtual meetings are even more challenging because they often rely on reading lips to assist them in hearing what has been said and they find it more difficult to lip read during virtual meetings, according to this recent article.

Capital One has addressed the problem of hearing other participants in Zoom calls by employing a computer assisted real-time translation that enables all participants to read real time audio transcripts of what is being said at these meetings. One can readily find live transcription offers for Zoom on the internet. The post notes that many people working from home actually find it difficult to hear others during vitual meetings because of noises in their homes and, thus, the visual translation is proving beneficial for all people on these calls.

There are also other suggestions about how Zoom meetings can be made easier for people with hearing loss, e. g., sending out agendas for meetings ahead of time, sharing documents to be discussed before the meetings. Again, these suggestions will be appreciated by all the virtual meeting attendees.

I have found that generally making adjustments for people with disabilities, whether they be physical, auditory, or visual, usually benefits a larger body of individuals. For example, lowering the step on buses for individuals who cannot climb up the higher step, e. g. elderly individual, person with a cane, is also helpful to the mother who is entering the bus with her three-year old or the individual who is carrying heavy packages. And lowering the decibel level of music in restaurants not only benefits individuals with hearing deficits but is generally welcomed by all diners who find it easier to converse in quieter environments.

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 COVID silver lining? Mask use in Korea reveals hearing loss

Photo credit: Jens-Olaf Walter licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from The Korea Biomedical Review notes that mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic is making many Koreans recognize that they have hearing loss. We all use facial expressions and gestures to help us understand what others are saying, and many people unconsciously lip read as well. But when we are wearing masks, awareness of facial expression is limited to the eyes and forehead and it’s impossible to lip read, so we are left dependent only on our hearing to understand what others are saying.

South Korea had an effective government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, involving universal mask wearing, social distancing, an early testing program, and effective contact tracing with isolation of infected individuals. Thanks to these efforts, according to WorldOMeter South Korea has had only 667 cases of COVID-19 per million population and only 10 deaths per million population.

In contrast, in the U.S., the lack of an effective national response has led to 41,444 cases per million and 823 deaths per million.

To use absolute numbers, which may be easier for some to understand, the population of South Korea is approximately 51 million and that of the United States 330 million. Using an adjustment factor of 7, which actually overstates the adjustment for the respective population sizes, South Korea has had 34,652 cases of COVID-19 and 526 deaths. If South Korea had as many people as the United States, it would have had 242,564 cases of COVID-19, and 3682 deaths. The U.S. has unfortunately had almost 14 million cases and almost 275,000 deaths. The difference in case and death numbers is due to almost universal mask wearing in South Korea.

But universal mask wearing in South Korea made it hard for those with hearing loss to understand what others were saying, because they were deprived of the visual cues associated with speech.

And according to Prof. Moon Il-jung in the Otorhinolaryngology Department at Samsung Medical Center, more patients are coming to the hospital to receive hearing tests, with hearing aids prescribed for those who have hearing loss.

And that may be a rare silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud.

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.

Orlando announces first vertiport for air taxis

Photo credit: Lilium

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

Here they come, ready or not: Get used to the words “vertiport” and “air taxi,” because it’s happening faster than many thought. The FAA Re-Authorization Act, signed into law in October 2018 included five provisos we welcomed that address the airport and aircraft noise issue. But the same Act also approved what aircraft futurists wanted: accelerated development of both drone deliveries–backed by Amazon and Google–and what we used to call “AirUber,” i.e., mostly electrically-powered, small, vertical-takeoff air taxis known technically as  electric vertical take off and landing vehicles, or eVOTLs. In the end, aircraft may get quieter, but there are going to be lot more of them buzzing around.

Andrew J. Hawkins, writing in The Verge, describes a deal between the Orlando city council and the richly funded German start-up company Lilium, which has launched and begun testing its 5-passenger eVOTL. Clearly, there’s a long way to go, and as Hawkins points out there are at least 100 companies actively competing in this exciting new eVOTL space. But the vast majority of these companies are in Europe and China, not the U.S. Why? Because the FAA has been busy protecting Boeing’s back and preventing development of these next-gen aircraft here.

No Matter. Let the Europeans and Chinese get a head start building quiet, electric or hydrogen aircraft. The greatest driver of innovation in the U.S. has always been outside competition—other people beating us at the innovation game. The first computers were built and used in the UK. The first airplanes and rockets were used in warfare by Germany. The first satellite was launched by Russia. So if the world is going to get quiet, non-petro-fueled next-gen aircraft, others will get there first. It’s an old story. But this time, we need Congress and a well-organized, national constituency to stand up and demand that drone makers and eVOTL companies like Lilium explicitly address the noise problem. Otherwise, we may hear them flying over our houses and backyards. We need a say in the process before they land on these shores. That’s what the National Quiet Skies Coalition and the 50 members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus are supposed to be doing.

We need to push them. Now. Get ready.

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.

COVID-19, The Great Traffic Disruptor

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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

John Stewart, the current Chair of the UK Noise Association and of the Campaign for Better Transport, has long advocated for improved public transit and reduced noise pollution. He is also the lead author of the book “Why Noise Matters,” of which I am one of the co-authors. Thus, I would say that he has the credentials to reflect on how we can move forward to a more equitable transit system with less noise pollution after the pandemic, which he calls “The Great Traffic Disruptor,” passes.

In this report for the Noise Association, Stewart simply states that we cannot go back to the “old normal” and urges us to view the pandemic as having provided us with the opportunity to reflect on what changes can be made so there will be “less noise, air pollution, climate emissions and congestion.” Stewart envisions a changed world with more reliable public transit services, reduced car speeds, increased space for walking and cycling, and increased use of e-scooters and e-bikes. He also advocates for low traffic neighborhoods and for cut-backs in traffic levels on main roads.

Stewart wants to share his thoughts and ideas worldwide and hopes to make links with others elsewhere with similar views. This post is an invitation to reach out to him to discuss his views and your own thoughts on the issue.

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.

London commuters dread Tube noise

Photo credit: Leon Warnking from Pexels

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

After my studies on the adverse impact of elevated train noise children’s classroom learning in a school in Upper Manhattan were published, the New York City Transit Authority became more involved in seeking out ways to reduce rail noise. I was asked to be a consultant to the Transit Authority in this undertaking. As I studied the rail noise in greater depth, I learned that rail noise could indeed be reduced, e.g. welded rail, rubber rail seats between rail and tracks, wheel truing, and track lubrication. What I also learned is the relationship between noise and proper maintenance of the system. To run a system with fewer breakdowns and disruptions, it is wise to keep the system properly maintained and noise should be viewed as a clue to potential breakdowns. Thus, keep the wheels trued and the tracks lubricated.

Now forty-five years after the publication of my first study on transit noise and learning, I read that Transport for London is being confronted by riders who say that the one aspect of their journeys on the Tubes that they dread is the noise. In April Curtin’s article for MyLondon, we learn that a research project recorded sound levels exceeding 105 decibels–that’s extremely high–on some of the journeys. As discussed in my earlier writings, this article notes that the rail squeak that passengers are complaining about causes damage to the tracks and trains. Not surprisingly, we are told, this adds to the maintenance bill.

In response to the noise complaints, Transport for London says it is carrying out regular maintenance work and “investing in new technologies to reduce noise on the Underground.” As the co-author of the book “Why Noise Matters,” written with four British co-authors, and as an individual who has examined transit noise for so many years, I offer my assistance to Transport for London as they explore ways to reduce rail noise.

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 loudest toys to avoid this holiday season

Photo credit: dolanh licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Every year for the last several years one publication or another, or these days one web site or another, has published a list of too-noisy toys that might harm a child’s hearing. This report from AZ BigMedia lists toys found to be too loud by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ADCHH). The loudest toys made noise of 85 decibels (dB) or louder. The report quotes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association as stating that 85 dB is the maximum volume a child should be exposed to for no more than eight hours a day.

The list of toys is a good one, but the advice about safe noise levels for children is not. As best as I can tell, there are no evidence-based safe noise exposure levels for children. No researcher has ever exposed children to loud noise and measured what happens to their hearing. That study just wouldn’t be ethical.

85 dB is derived from the 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels) recommended occupational noise exposure level, first calculated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 1972 and revised in 1998. At 85 dBA, 8% of exposed workers will develop noise-induced hearing loss. An industrial-strength noise exposure level that doesn’t even protect all workers from hearing loss is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which must last her an entire lifetime.

I wrote about safe noise exposure levels for the public in the American Journal of Public Health and the difference between an occupational exposure level and one for the public was discussed in a NIOSH Science Blog post.

The best advice for parents and grandparents when selecting toys for their little darlings? If a toy sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect their hearing and don’t buy it for them this holiday season.

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.

The Freakonomics podcast hones in on noise

Photo of Stephen Dubner by Audrey S. Bernstein, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

This new segment of the popular podcast “Freakonomics” hosted by Stephen Dubner was released on November 11. It features The Quiet Coalition’s own Dr. Arline Bronzaft as well as other researchers, including economist Dr. Josh Dean at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, behavioral ecologist Peter Tyack at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, emeritus medical researchers at Emory University, and Dr. Mack Hagood at Miami University in Ohio.

Dubner, co-author of the best-selling book “Freakonomics,” always focuses on fascinating anomalies, i.e., the unexpected impacts of human activities. In this episode he focuses on noise as what economists call an “externality”—a noxious byproduct that pollutes the environment for others but for which no one is held responsible.

Dubner interviews Dr. Bronzaft about her justly-famous work on the effects of train noise on kids’ performance in a New York City school. He interviews Dr. Tyack about his work with whales, whose lives—indeed their very survival—is impacted by the environmental externality of human-produced noise from underwater oil exploration, sonar, and ships’ engines.

Dubner then focuses on Dr. Dean’s work at the University of Chicago on the impacts of noise on human productivity, a little explored subject owing to the lack of official government interest in noise research in the U.S.

Take a listen.  This podcast is a fascinating hour-long program that does a wonderful job of exploring current research on noise!

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.