Health and Noise

Use SoundPrint app on International Noise Awareness Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Acoustical Society of America is encouraging people to observe International Noise Awareness Day on April 25 by using the SoundPrint app for smart phones to record and post restaurant noise levels.

That sounds like a good idea to me.

DISCLOSURE: I am the Medical Advisor for SoundPrint.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

NY representatives win funding to combat aircraft noise

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

In my recent paper, “Impact of Noise on Health: The Divide Between Policy and Science,” I stressed that research on the adverse impacts of noise on health is plentiful but not enough was being done, especially in the U.S., to lessen noise. Many years earlier, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed the data linking noise to health were strong. In a booklet it published in August 1978, “Noise: A Health Problem,” it said “[i]t is finally clear that noise is a significant hazard to health.”

With respect to lessening noise, Russell Train, the then EPA Administrator, stated at a 1976 Inter-Noise Conference that with respect to lessening aircraft noise, which adversely affects millions of residents, “We really know what needs to be done. We have simply lacked the will to do it. Let’s get on with the job.”

Now fast forward to 2018 and you can readily understand the frustration and pain of the many U.S. groups fighting aircraft noise knowing the data supporting the harmful effects of aircraft noise are strong but the “will” to remedy the situation is still lacking. One of the reasons that the Federal Aviation Administration has lagged behind in remedying the noise problem is that the agency insists on using outdated methods to measure noise. The agency claims that the Day-Night Average Sound level of 65 dBA is the level at which sound becomes intrusive, but this metric has long been viewed as too high. Additionally, averages do not speak to the singular disturbing overhead jet sounds that come in at 6 a.m. or late at night, and the agency relies on modeling and simulations to determine impacts rather than actual measurements.

Community groups have informed themselves about the dangers of aircraft noise and have learned about the changes the FAA must make to more accurately measure noise levels, which in turn can lead to better methods to abate noise. These groups have shared this information to legislators with whom they have formed partnerships to design legislation that can better address aircraft noise pollution. A number of New York legislators, including representatives Joe Crowley, Grace Meng, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, and Kathleen Rice, formed a coalition known as the New York Quiet Skies Caucus. One of the members, Congressman Joe Crowley, wanting data to strengthen his request for improved methods to measure noise levels, secured a federal grant to conduct a study yielding such data. I was one of the authors of that study, which is discussed in “Airport-Related Air Pollution and Noise.”

Thus, it is with some satisfaction that I can now share the following press release from Rep. Grace Meng announcing that the New York Quiet Skies Caucus has “secured a provision in the newly enacted omnibus appropriations bill which directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to examine new methods of measuring aircraft noise in order to reduce the impact of excessive airplane noise over their districts.”

I wish to thank our members of congress for their hard work in getting this legislation passed and join them in their hope that this first step will lead to quieter skies.

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.

MRIs are dangerously noisy

Photo credit: liz west licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

MRI noise is in the news in two recent reports.

People magazine reported the story of a woman who suffered permanent auditory damage from an MRI, developing hyperacusis (a sensitivity to noise, which causes pain) and tinnitus. The Quiet Coalition’s Bryan Pollard, an expert on hyperacusis, is quoted in the article.

And researchers from SUNY Buffalo and China wrote about MRI noise in The Hearing Journal.

Standard MRIs produce noise in the 110-115 decibel range, and newer more powerful MRIs are even louder. Knowing this, I have several quibbles with the information in The Hearing Journal article. Namely, the article cites occupational noise exposure standards, but these use A-weighted decibels (dBA) to reflect the frequencies of human speech. MRI noise is low frequency noise, so occupational noise limits may not protect hearing adequately. And occupational standards are not safe standards for the public. At least 25% of workers exposed to sound at occupational noise exposure standards will develop hearing loss.

Most importantly, for many people the auditory damage caused by MRI noise isn’t hearing loss but tinnitus and hyperacusis, as in the People magazine article. Exactly how noise causes tinnitus and hyperacusis isn’t yet known, but the mechanisms are likely different from cochlear hair cell damage causing noise-induced hearing loss.

Finally, the authors talk about temporary auditory damage, but many researchers think that any temporary auditory changes indicate that permanent damage has been done.

I can’t find any large-scale studies of auditory problems after MRIs–the equipment manufacturers wouldn’t be excited about funding such a study, and radiologists are interested in the image, not in the patient’s hearing–but anecdotal reports from audiologists indicate that this is a problem for too many people undergoing diagnostic MRIs.

So if you need an MRI, be sure to ask for “dual protection”– ear plugs and ear muffs. NIOSH recommends dual protection for noise exposure over 100 dBA.

And if you suffer auditory damage from an MRI, be sure to file a report with the FDA. That’s the only way the government will be induced to issue appropriate patient safety regulations.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

New study shows hope for hearing loss. Again.

Image credit: Chittka L. Brockmann licensed under CC BY 2.5

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report shows hope for hearing loss, describing a technique that may work to deliver drugs to inner ear structures deep within the skull, perhaps to treat hearing loss.

Whether these techniques will actually work, will be approved by the FDA, and will be affordable remains to be seen, probably years or even decades in the future.

In the meantime, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound–or several pounds–worth of cure.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Avoid loud noise and avoid hearing loss.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud. If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above the auditory injury threshold of 75 A-weighted decibels, and your hearing is being damaged.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Can bananas protect against hearing loss?

Photo credit: Dom J from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Can bananas protect against hearing loss?

This report from Australia states that nutrients in bananas–zinc and potassium–can help protect hearing.

The potassium reportedly protects against hearing loss and the zinc against tinnitus.

That may be true and everyone should eat a healthy diet including at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, but I doubt that these two nutrients by themselves will prevent auditory damage from noise exposure.

And I’m always puzzled that researchers and the public look for various cures or treatments for auditory disorders- many of questionable scientific validity or still in a very preliminary stage of development- when there is one proven effective way to protect hearing:

Avoid loud noise, or wear hearing protection if you can’t escape the noise.

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 serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

 

Musician wins landmark case over damaged hearing

Photo credit: MITO SettembreMusica licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The BBC reports that a viola player who suffered a life-changing hearing injury at a rehearsal of a Wagner opera is entitled for compensation for his injury.

This is the first time that acoustic shock has been recognized as a compensable work-related condition.

A one-time exposure to extremely loud noise–often caused by a blast injury but possible from other loud noise–physically disrupts the structures in the inner ear. In many if not most cases, they can’t recover from the trauma.

Even if the noise isn’t 130 decibels, it can still cause lifelong hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis.

I have been unable to find more than anecdotal reports in the medical literature of this type of auditory damage, and in science the operative phrase is “the plural of anecdotes isn’t data,” but we all need to be aware of the dangers of noise.

As violist Chris Goldscheider unfortunately learned, if it sounds too loud, it is too loud.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

 

Hearing loss is associated with accidental injury

Photo credit: slgckgc licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This paper in the March 22, 2018, issue of JAMA Otolaryngology reports that difficulty hearing is associated with an increased risk of accidental injury. The study is preliminary because it relies on subject self-report of hearing difficulty rather than measured hearing loss, but it makes sense. Sound provides much information–for communication, for entertainment, and for warning of hazards–and if you have difficulty hearing, you’ll become aware of problems (e.g., an approaching vehicle, a power tool that’s getting stuck, or even just a shouted warning) later than if you had good hearing.

Think about all the accidental injury that could be avoided if people made an effort to protect their hearing.  After all, most hearing loss in adults is noise-induced hearing loss which is 100% preventable.

Protect your hearing by avoiding loud noise or using hearing protection, and avoid accidental injury, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

 

Noisy vacuum cleaners are still a problem in the EU

Photo credit: Phonical licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Despite European Union regulations about vacuum cleaner noise, this report documents that noisy vacuum cleaners are still a problem there.

As the Volkswagen diesel pollution fiasco shows, manufacturers will flout laws meant to protect the public until regulators act.

At least Europe has laws protecting the public from appliance noise. The U.S. has these laws on the books, but they have not been enforced since the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded during the Reagan years.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

 

CDC: Occupational noise exposure can raise blood pressure, cholesterol levels

Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition usually doesn’t comment on occupational noise because workers have legal protection from noise exposure under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, with noise exposure standards, required hearing protection, and compensation for hearing loss, while the public has none.

We have commented–as have many others–that the occupational noise exposure standards are set too high, but we otherwise focus on the public.

But it’s important to note that most of what we know about the dangers of noise comes from occupational studies.

This report from the Centers for Disease Control documents increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as hearing loss, in workers exposed to noise.

Many research studies, the overwhelming majority from Europe, document these non-auditory health impacts of noise in the public, too, but it’s good to see these issues finally being noticed in the U.S.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.