Health and Noise

CDC educates public about the dangers of noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Our contacts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have informed The Quiet Coalition that the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health will be educating the public about the dangers of noise exposure at sports events, via advertisements in official printed programs for NHL, NBA, and NFL games, including this year’s Super Bowl LIII. An example of the advertisement appears at the top of this post. One of the ads suggests that these efforts will even extend to NASCAR races.

Research done by the CDC showed that about 25% of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, and that 53% of these people with NIHL had no major occupational exposure to loud noise. The hearing damage was occurring outside the workplace.

We applaud the CDC’s educational effort, but suspect that, as with creating the largely smoke-free environment we now enjoy, much more must be done. Namely, real change won’t happen until government regulations are promulgated that set standards for noise levels in different settings and require the use, or at least the offer, of hearing protection devices to attendees. Nothing less will protect the nation’s auditory health.

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.

Hospital noise is bad for health

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

In a 2017 presentation, referring to an earlier paper I had written with Rita Wynne Herzig in 1999, I noted that hospital noise was a serious problem for patients and staff and that not enough has been done to reduce sound levels in hospitals. Suggestions to lessen hospital sounds included better design and quieter equipment.

A recent article, “Noise Pollution in Hospitals,” underscores the fact that noise still remains a hazard for hospital patients and staff. The authors of a study linking sleep loss to increased feelings of pain would agree, as they use their findings to call for lower sound levels in hospitals. In fact, they suggested the distribution of earplugs to patients to lessen the sounds and improve their sleep. But researchers who have studied the impacts of noise on health for many years know that it is best to reduce noise at the source. Some ways to reduce hospital noise can be found at Dr. Susan E. Mazer’s blog.

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.

85 dB is not a safe noise level to prevent hearing loss

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The title of my article in the January 2019 issue of The Hearing Journal says it all. No, 85 decibels (dB) is not a safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss.

In the absence of a federal guideline, recommendation, or standard for non-occupational noise exposure, the 85 dB (actually dBA, A-weighted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech) occupational noise exposure standard seems to have become the de facto safe noise exposure standard in the U.S. and around the world.

This misunderstanding might be why the world has gotten noisier over the last four decades.

I hope those charged with protecting the public’s health–including the Centers for DC, FTC, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and state and local agencies–will take steps to protect the nation’s auditory health in 2019.

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.

Is Your Noise Making Me Fat?

Photo credit: Yukari

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

Is your noise making me fat?  That may seem like a silly question to ask, but there is strong scientific evidence that traffic noise causes obesity.  More specifically, increased traffic noise–whether from highways, airplanes, or trains–is strongly correlated with central obesity.  Central obesity (or “truncal obesity”) is in turn linked with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac disease leading to increased mortality.

Why would noise cause obesity?  The auditory system evolved from vibration sensing mechanisms in primitive organisms which were used to sense predators, or by predators to find food.  Noise perception remains a major warning system, even in mammalian species.  Except for fish, most animals above the phylum Insecta close their eyes when they sleep but cannot close their ears, except for some which swim or dig.  Noise at levels not loud enough to cause hearing loss in humans interferes with sleep, causing a rise in stress hormone levels. These in turn alter carbohydrate and fat metabolism, leading to fat deposition. And that can cause diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn cause heart disease.

A study published in 2015 showed a clear association between noise exposure and central obesity.  Another study published that year showed that noise caused increased heart disease and death.

And 100 million Americans are exposed to noise levels loud enough to cause these problems.

There is probably nothing specific about traffic noise that makes it more likely to cause health problems than any other source of noise, except, perhaps, the factor of unanticipated noise may be important.  It’s just easier to study the effects of traffic noise on humans than asking thousands of people to use personal sound monitors for long periods of time and then collecting and analyzing those data.  Noise is noise.

It’s obviously difficult to measure the non-auditory health impacts of everyday noise exposure–in the streets, in restaurants and stores, at sports events, at concerts–on an individual, but noise has powerful physiologic effects.

So as both noise levels and obesity levels rise in the United States, the answer to the question, “Is YOUR noise making ME fat?” may be “Yes!”

What can we do? For those living near highways, airports, or railroad tracks, double pane windows and wall and attic insulation may provide some protection.  But the best approach to noise is to limit it at its source, which will require political pressure to get laws passed to require quiet, especially nighttime quiet.

After the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded 35 years ago (pdf), noise is largely a local government issue.  So if you want change, you have to speak up for yourself.  One easy step is to look at your local government’s website to see if noise is identified as a constituent issue.  If not, contact your local government representative and ask to speak to him or her about noise problems in your neighborhood or around your workplace.  In addition, an internet search should reveal whether your community has a group that is organized to fight noise in your town (click this link for a map of noise activist and quiet advocacy organizations).  Find out if they are active and go to a meeting to see what they are doing.  If politicians see that an issue is important to constituents, it is in their best interest to address that issue it they want to be re-elected.  If they ignore it, they can be replaced.  An active constituency ensures a responsive politician, at least on the local level.

Noise is omnipresent and insidious.  Because it’s everywhere, people assume that it must be tolerated and cannot be regulated.  But when air pollution became so noticeable and obviously unhealthy that it couldn’t be ignored, government responded with forceful legislation.  As a result, our air is cleaner today than it was in 1970America has gotten noisier and hearing loss in on the increase.  As with air pollution, we need robust government action to regulate noise.  If you care about your health and the health of your family, push back against noise, demand action, and join your neighbors to promote a peaceful, quiet, and healthy environment.

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.

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.

Hearing loss associated with depression

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’m not sure this new report on the association between hearing loss and depression in older Hispanic people in JAMA Otolaryngology adds much to our knowledge of how hearing loss affects people. It has been known for some years that hearing loss is associated with depression in older people. The report extends the research to Hispanic people in several large cities, but as best as I can tell, that’s the only new information. The authors claim that this study’s importance is that it measured hearing loss rather than relying on reports of hearing difficulties, but some earlier studies did that, too.

In older people it’s hard to tell if the hearing loss was caused by noise or not, because over time changes indicating hearing loss from noise lose specificity as hearing loss becomes worse. But my analysis of the literature suggests that what is commonly called age-related hearing loss, as in the JAMA Otolaryngology article, is really noise-induced hearing loss, which is entirely preventable.

Now that the connection between hearing loss and depression is clear, doesn’t it make sense for government and the medical community to commit resources to educate the public about the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss? A host of health concerns will diminish or disappear if we focus on stopping noise-induced hearing loss.

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.

Why hospitals should let you sleep

Photo credit: Ivan Obolensky from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Austin Frakt in the New York Times discusses the need for hospital patients to get more sleep, and the many things that disrupt a patient’s sleep when they are in the hospital. The list of culprits is obvious: alarm noise, carts in the hall, blood draws, vital signs measurements, and so on.

Uninterrupted sleep is important for everyone, not just hospital patients. Anything that interrupts sleep–horns, sirens, road traffic noise, train horns, aircraft noise, horn-based alerts, patrons exiting a nightclub or bar at closing time–is a health hazard.

I have no doubt that if enough people complain to enough elected officials about health problems caused by noise, governments at the local, state, and national levels will take action to make our cities and towns quieter.

It worked for smoke-free restaurants, workplaces, airplanes, and in some states even smoke-free beaches and parks.

Let’s all resolve to work together for a quieter world in the New Year.

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.

My 4th Noise Activist Anniversary

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anniversaries are special. We celebrate wedding anniversaries. Alcoholics Anonymous celebrates the anniversaries of those who are in recovery. Wounded military veterans celebrate their Alive Day, the day on which they were wounded. And yesterday was my anniversary, the fourth anniversary of my becoming a noise activist.

I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve, 2007. As midnight approached, they kept turning up the music louder and louder. My wife could tell that the noise was bothering me and suggested that we leave, but I didn’t want to offend our friends who had arranged the dinner. As soon as it was polite to leave, maybe 12:30 a.m., we did. My ears were ringing when we left, and the ringing never stopped.

I also found that noise that didn’t bother others hurt my ears: Movie soundtracks, the grind of a food processor, loud exhausts and sirens, and especially noise in restaurants. I’m a doctor and have always done what I could to stay healthy. But I had no idea that a one-time exposure to loud noise could cause tinnitus and hyperacusis for the rest of my life. When my wife would suggest an evening out, I would ask, “Can’t we eat at home?”

On December 2, 2014, I read an article about hyperacusis in the New York Times science section, written by journalist Joyce Cohen, who has since become a friend. I circled it in red and gave it to my wife, saying, “Honey, this is why I don’t want to go to restaurants any more. They are all too noisy. The noise hurts my ears. Just like it says in this article.” My wife finally understood that while I might have been getting grumpier with age, my dislike of noisy restaurants was caused by an auditory disorder.

So I decided to do something to make the world a quieter place. I reached out via email to the four experts cited in Joyce’s article. One thing led to another, and I ended up serving on the board of the American Tinnitus Association and helping create The Quiet Coalition, where I am the board chair.

I learned that I wasn’t the only person in the world with auditory disorders. Hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis are all too common. But auditory disorders are invisible, and largely occur in older people, who themselves are largely invisible in our society. Except for congenital deafness, auditory disorders tend to be ignored.

It’s been quite an odyssey. I found that via the internet, I could communicate with experts in various areas of noise, across the country and even around the world. At the urging of one of them, I submitted abstracts to scientific meetings about noise. Those were accepted for presentation, and I spoke at national and international scientific meetings. I have had publications based on my talks appear in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, and I have been quoted in articles and have advised national and international health authorities about noise. And I have learned, through the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research, how truly life-limiting noise-induced hearing problems can be. All because I read an article and decided to do something to make the world quieter.

The world is still too noisy, and I still can’t find a quiet restaurant, but apps like iHEARu and SoundPrint are now available.

And as more evidence becomes available about noise as a health and public health hazard, I am confident that an informed public will push legislators and public health officials to eliminate unnecessary noise.

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.

Is noise pollution making you fat?

This image is in the public domain in the U.S.

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

The discussion that stress may be linked to obesity has gone on for many years but an internet search of research linking stress to obesity will reveal that stress can indeed increase weight. One could now ask the question whether continuous noise intrusions from railways, roads, and overhead aircraft could be associated with obesity. The answer to this question appears to be “yes” with regard to road noise, “less so” with rail noise and “no” for aircraft noise in the research paper cited in this Environment International article.

While the authors of the paper cited above believe that additional research needs to be conducted, including effects of aircraft noise, to strengthen the data supporting the relationship between noise and obesity, they stress that with obesity being a major public issue worldwide, the existing data suggest that noise needs to be seriously considered as a contributing factor. They also point out that: “obesity could represent one pathway through which transportation noise impacts cardiovascular disease,” recognizing that studies have linked transportation noise to cardiovascular ailments.

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.

Girl scout receives national honor for work on hearing health

Photo credit: Elizabeth Goodspeed licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Christina Mayo, The Miami Herald, reports about Girl Scout Kelly Culhane, who was honored for being an exceptional leader for her work with the Ear Peace Foundation. It’s a heartwarming story.

Mayo reports that Culhane was named a National Gold Award Girl Scout, the highest honor awarded by the Girl Scouts–and she’s the first Girl Scout from Miami to win this award. She won this distinction for her “Gold Award-winning project in which she partnered with the Ear Peace: Save Your Hearing Foundation.”  Says Mayo:

Kelly wrote the script, filmed and edited an educational video called “Band Together to Protect Your Hearing,” which is used in the foundation’s teacher training workshops for 392 schools in Miami-Dade County.

You can see Culhane’s video and learn more here.

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.