Health and Noise

Real angry birds

Photo credit: Thet Tun Aung from Pexels

Country File magazine reports on recent research by Manchester Metropolitan University with Manchester Airport that found birds living near airports “are exposed to extreme noise levels from jet engines” which interferes with communication during breeding season. Interestingly, not only is communication affected, but the researchers found that common chiffchaffs living near loud aircraft were five times more likely to attack a speaker playing bird song than chiffchaffs who lived further away from airports. That is, the noise made the birds more aggressive.

We were not entirely surprised that noise would cause aggression in animals, as some studies show that noise causes or exacerbates aggression among humans.

Just another reason to lower the volume, everywhere.

 

 

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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.

NPR covers hand dryer noise

Phot credit: Peter Baron licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have already written about the wonderful report by a young scientist, Nora Keegan, on the dangers of electric hand dryers, but NPR also covered the story so we’re sharing that with our readers, too.

As Nora realized at age 9, if something sounds too loud, it is too loud. And what followed was her study, over a couple of years, on just how loud and dangerous restroom hand dryers are. What she discovered is that “Xlerator hand dryers and two types of Dyson Airblade hand dryers posed the greatest threats to children’s hearing” because they “exceed[ed] 100 decibels — a volume that can lead to “learning disabilities, attention difficulties, and ruptured ear drums.”

Kudos to Nora for her dedicated study, and to NPR for bringing her story to its listeners.

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 or tinnitus causing sleep loss? There’s an app for that….

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The New York Times is published in one of the noisiest cities in the world, so it’s no surprise that some of their reporters—like everybody else living in New York City–have trouble sleeping and are looking for solutions. Some of those same reporters also suffer from tinnitus, often caused by exposure to loud noises.

Two New York Times articles explore smartphone-based apps that promise better sleep through mindfulness or meditation training. If this sounds fishy to you, suspend your disbelief because there’s quite a bit of research on this subject. In fact, the Veterans Administration’s National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research in Portland, Oregon recommends some of these approaches. That’s not surprising, as military veterans suffer disproportionately from hearing disorders like tinnitus owing to exposure to firearms and explosive devices. As a result, the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration have spent quite a bit of effort on both prevention and treatment because tinnitus is one of the top two service-related disabilities, costing billions every year.

My point is this: getting a good night’s rest is essential to everyone’s health. If you live in a noisy or distracting environment, actually going to sleep and then sleeping soundly through the night may require some combination of the following three things:

  1. Good hearing protection, like a really good pair of earplugs or even sound-deadening ear-muffs;
  2. Some sort of continuous background sound-making device that plays soothing sounds like ocean waves or rainfall; and
  3. Some mindfulness training to help you get to sleep.

If you suffer from tinnitus, you may also want to look into the VA’s Tinnitus Retraining Therapy program, which teaches people to re-direct their attention away from the non-stop ringing and buzzing in their ears that is characteristic of tinnitus and focus on other subjects.

If you feel like experimenting, try some of the apps mentioned by the New York Times reporters and please tell us if they help.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI’s Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI’s Committee S123-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation’s 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.

Another report about restaurant noise

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in USA Today, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the U.S. with global reach, again highlights the problem of restaurant noise. Restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of restaurant patrons in Zagat surveys, this year edging out the usual leading complaints of poor service and high prices. The article also cites the recent Washington Post article about the disability rights aspects of restaurant noise, in which I am extensively quoted.

Restaurant noise isn’t just a discomfort issue or a disability rights issue. It’s a health and public health issue.

In many restaurants and bars, noise levels exceed 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA), and according to the World Health Organization, only one hour exposure at 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.

I wear inconspicuous plastic ear plugs in noisy restaurants to protect my hearing, and so should you. And you don’t need a sound meter app on your smart phone to know if the ambient noise is too high: If you have to strain to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is at risk.

Because if something 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.

How much time should you spend in nature each week?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times discusses time spent outdoors as something important to health. From a study done in the UK, researchers concluded that two hours a week was sufficient, with less time conveying little benefit but more time conveying no additional benefit in terms of health or perceptions of health.

Why is time in nature important? No one is sure. Green spaces especially seem to help. I think on important component of the nature experience is that nature is generally quiet, with few loud sound sources and trees and grass helping to absorb, rather than reflect, any loud sounds that might intrude.

Of course, that assumes one turns off one’s personal music player.

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.

Restaurant servers and bartenders warned about noise

Photo credit: Daria Sannikova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Tricity News reports that the Canadian provincial equivalent of a state occupational safety and health organization in the U.S., WorkSafe BC, just issued a warning on noise to restaurant servers and bartenders. Specifically, WorkSafe BC warned that “[h]earing loss in the workplace can be just as damaging in the service industry as it is in heavy industrial settings.”

Patrons are only in a restaurant or bar for an hour or two, but the workers may be there for an 8-hour shift, and often the noise exposure is loud enough for a long enough period to damage hearing. No surprise then that WorkSafe BC issued the warning. One wonders what it would take for OSHA–or a state or local government health agency–to act to protect the hearing of service industry workers.

Additional information is available on the WorkSafe BC website.

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 New Yorker asks: Is Noise The Next Big Public Health Crisis?

Photo credit: ŠJů licensed under CC BY 4.0

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

This superbly written piece appeared in the New Yorker magazine online edition May 6 (it is in the May 13, 2019, print edition). Kudos to staff writer David Owen for his second article on the subject of noise–his first, on high-tech hopes for the hard of hearing, was published in March 2017. Owen also has a book coming out this October called “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening Worldthat we eagerly await—could this book help tip the scales?

We’re especially proud that Mr. Owen worked with several of The Quiet Coalition’s founders to produce this latest piece: our chair, Daniel Fink, MD, Arline Bronzaft, PhD, Les Blomberg, Bryan Pollard and maybe others. The first three are quoted in the piece and Bryan facilitated contact between the writer and the hyperacusis patient whose story appeared in the article, and assisted with fact checking on hyperacusis.

When we started The Quiet Coalition, our goal was to act as a reliable and accurate source of science stories to major media. The Quiet Coalition has assembled a outstanding group of members who are willing to share their knowledge and noise contacts with editors and reporters. As this and several other articles show, it’s working!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Why you temporarily hear muffled sound after a loud noise

Photo credit: Katie Tegtmeyer licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise-induced temporary threshold shift, or NITTS, describes the temporary muffling of sound after a person is exposed to loud noise. This article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Eureka Alert details a report in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that provides an explanation for NITTS. Namely, researchers in Sweden found changes in calcium ions in the tectorial membrane of the cochlea.

While NITTS is a real and observable finding, the idea that auditory damage from noise is temporary is most likely false. Research by Liberman and Kujawa and colleagues at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary strongly suggests that there is no such thing as temporary auditory damage. And decades of occupational noise exposure studies show that NITTS eventually becomes NIPTS, noise-induced permanent threshold shift, i.e., noise-induced hearing loss. That is, your awareness of muffled hearing following exposure to loud noise is temporary, but the damage caused by the loud noise is permanent.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. Avoid noise exposure and if one can’t avoid noise exposure, use hearing protection devices.

Because 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.

NYU celebrates International Noise Awareness Day

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

April 25 marked the twenty-fourth annual International Noise Awareness Day—now a global event originating in New York City in the mid-1990s that has gained significant momentum.

On April 24, New York University’s Bobst Library, facing Washington Square Park in NYC, was the locus of this year’s INAD festivities. Superbly organized by Quiet Coalition co-founders Dr. Antonella Radicchi and Dr. Arline Bronzaft along with NYU researcher and technologist Prof. Tae Hong Park, the program featured six speakers, a “sound-walk,” and a discussion group.

Congratulations to the organizers for a superbly organized event and a beautiful spring day in NYC!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.