Health and Noise

Cochlear implants for children born without hearing

Photo credit: Matt Ralph licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This op-ed by Irene Taylor Brodsky in the New York Times discusses the issue of cochlear implants for children born without hearing.

It raises all sorts of issues that most parents, and most people, don’t have to consider. Those of us born with normal hearing, and with children and grandchildren born with normal hearing, simply won’t have to deal with these issues.

But we should learn to value our hearing as much as those born without it, and we should protect it all our lives. A simple way to protect hearing is to avoid exposure to loud sound, and if loud sound can’t be avoided, to use hearing protection.

Remember: if it sounds too loud, it is too loud and your hearing is at risk of being damaged.

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 spin class destroying your hearing?

Photo credit: www.localfitness.com.au licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This could be my shortest blog post ever: In a word, “yes.”

Seriously, the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for the entire day. This is not new information. The 70 decibels safe noise level was calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1974. The World Health Organization reached the same conclusion in 1999, as did the National Institutes of Health in 1990. (The NIH states that the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 75 decibels average for 8 hours, which is the same mathematically as 70 decibels for the day.) And more recently, my analysis of the safe noise level passed editorial muster at two of the worlds leading medical journals, the American Journal of Public Health in 2017 and the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018.

There can be no rational doubt about this number.

Most people think that louder music improves athletic performance, but there is no scientific evidence for this. I have communicated with two of the world’s experts on the effects of music on athletic performance. who both informed me that music may help improve performance in rhythmic activities, e.g., running at a steady pace, but there is no research showing that louder is better.

Those who go to noisy gyms and noisy spin classes have a choice: wear earplugs now, or wear hearing aids later.

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.

It is a matter of life or death

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from Business Standard states that secondhand noise is a problem but isn’t a matter of life or death.

That may be the only statement I disagree with in it.

The hearing sense evolved from a primitive vibration sense that single cell organisms used to find food or to avoid being eaten. Exquisitely sensitive hearing was important to survival. Other than a few marine mammals that can close their ears, mammals including humans evolved no protection against loud noise.

In the 1980s research in animal models and in humans showed that noise has major involuntary physiological stress impacts on mammals, including humans, such as faster heart rate, high blood pressure, and increases in stress hormone levels.

More recent epidemiology studies, using advanced statistical techniques and the processing power of modern computers, shows that noise causes hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and increased death rates. This is not new information and it is not a secret. The scientifically inclined may want to read these two excellent review articles on environmental noise pollution in the U.S. and auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health. These health impacts are small for each person exposed to excess noise, but have a large population health impact because of the hundreds of millions–if not billions–of people affected.

It’s long past time for the public to demand quieter cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, and trains, and for those sworn to protect the public–elected officials and public health authorities–to take action to make the world quiet.

After all, it’s still national policy (in the Noise Control Act of 1972) to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and well-being.

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.

Can preventing hearing loss now prevent dementia later?

Photo credit: Monica McGivern licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We have written about this report before but important news bears repeating: A study using functional MRI techniques found that relatively young people with very mild hearing loss were using parts of their brain not normally used to try to understand speech. The researchers think that this added stress on the brain now may lead to an increased rate of dementia later.

The relationship between hearing loss and dementia is being studied in many ways. It has long been known that there was a correlation between hearing loss and dementia, with studies showing that people with worse hearing are more likely to develop dementia.

And one large study is trying to see if giving hearing aids to older people with hearing loss prevents dementia.

But it’s a whole lot easier–both a whole lot better, and a whole lot cheaper–to just avoid hearing loss by avoiding loud noise now. Hearing loss, after all, is not an inevitable part of aging.

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.

Noise kills

Photo credit: Pete G licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Most people, including most doctors, don’t know that noise causes both hearing damage–hearing loss, tinnitus and hyperacusis–as well as a whole host of non-auditory health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and death.

These non-auditory health effects are discussed in this article that reviews the current literature.

The European Union understands the dangers that noise exposure poses, and it is taking steps to protect the public via the Environmental Noise Directive.

If enough Americans make sure their elected representatives know that they are worried about how noise affects us, maybe the U.S. will become quieter and healthier, too.

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 is bad for children

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One of the nice things about doing a Google search is the serendipity of coming across something else.

I recently saw a mention of a World Health Organization statement that children shouldn’t be exposed to noise above 120 decibels, so I began searching for the source of that statement. While searching, I found this 2009 WHO PowerPoint presentation (pdf) about the adverse health effect of noise on children–not just hearing loss, but hypertension, increases in stress hormone levels, and difficulties learning, among a multitude of other adverse effects. Eventually, I found the 120 decibel recommendation in the WHO 1999 Community Noise Guidelines monograph.

It’s distressing that this information clearly has been known for so long–the pediatric noise hazards for almost a decade, the Community Noise Guidelines for almost two decades—and we still haven’t done anything to protect our children from noise.

With our first grandchild just born, I will renew my efforts to protect children and all people from the dangers of noise. I hope he grows up in 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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

7 reasons to say no to fireworks

Lloyd Alter, the design editor for Treehugger.com, posted his annual rant about the dangers of fireworks.  In short, fireworks are a dangerous and stupid way to celebrate anything, and in exchange for the short-term pleasure of seeing things blow up in the air, here are the long-term consequences of using them:

They spew percholorates, particulates, heavy metals, CO₂ and ozone into the atmosphere, cause over 10,000 injuries a year, are cruel to animals, and can lead to hearing loss.

It’s not fun being a killjoy, but really, are fireworks necessary?

Does noise kill thousands every year?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Richard Godwin in The Guardian discusses the health dangers of noise exposure, including increased mortality. The dangers of noise are well-known in Europe, where the Environmental Noise Directive requires European Union member states to develop and implement government policies to reduce noise exposure for their citizens. Writes Godwin:

Noise exposure has also been linked with cognitive impairment and behavioural issues in children, as well as the more obvious sleep disturbance and hearing damage. The European Environment Agency blames 10,000 premature deaths, 43,000 hospital admissions and 900,000 cases of hypertension a year in Europe on noise. The most pervasive source is road-traffic noise: 125 million Europeans experience levels greater than 55 decibels – thought to be harmful to health – day, evening and night.

Somehow, this body of knowledge has yet to reach this side of the Atlantic Ocean, even though the overwhelming majority of experts think that the scientific evidence is strong enough to establish causality, not merely a correlation or association of noise and health problems.

I am confident that when the public does learn about the dangers of noise for health–not just causing hearing loss, but also hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and death–Americans will also push their elected officials for laws and regulations to achieve a quieter 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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

 

More study needed on hearing loss among preschool teachers

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

As an educator, psychologist and researcher on the effects of noise on children’s learning, I have been long interested in the sounds to which children and teachers are exposed to in the classroom. While the literature is indeed plentiful on the dangers of loud sounds and noise to the hearing of young children, as well as to the impacts of noise to their cognition and learning abilities, and my own writings have noted that noise in the classroom disrupts teaching, little has been said about the impacts of loud sounds and noise to which teachers of young children are exposed.

Now we have this study from Sweden that has found hearing-related problems in preschool women teachers that is considerably higher than would be expected. I am looking forward to reading the published study of this paper to learn more about the methodology and specific findings but still, based on this report, would suggest that there be additional studies in other countries, including the U.S. If indeed these findings hold up, then the design of schools with a special emphasis on the acoustics must be given greater thought as the article suggests.

And better school design would also benefit the students. Groups of children tend to be noisy but even here the sound levels can be lessened with appropriate interventions and children can also be taught the importance of being quieter in reading sessions and at times when they read or draw on their own at their desks.

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.

Hearing-related problems are common among preschool teachers

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anyone who has seen a bunch of schoolchildren, in a park or a museum or a zoo–perhaps anywhere other than a library–knows that they can be noisy. And noise exposure causes hearing problems.

This report from Sweden discusses the high prevalence of hearing-related problems among preschool teachers there, including hearing loss, difficulty understanding speech, and sensitivity to noise.

The findings have to be replicated in other countries–maybe Swedish kids are noisier than others?–but the report shows that noise is a ubiquitous occupational hazard, even for preschool teachers.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.