Health and Noise

WHO recommends quiet

Photo credit: Leif Jørgensen licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization just issued its new noise guidelines for Europe (pdf). This poster summarizes the 100+ page report which contains the scientific evidence:

The research was done by many of the world’s leading noise experts, and in turn reviewed by more experts who developed these evidence-based noise exposure guidelines.

There can be no rational doubt that noise is a major health problem in Europe and the United States, causing hearing loss, sleep disruption, cardiovascular disease, and death.

We hope the United States will follow the Europe’s example and start dealing with the noise problem, 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 killing us

Photo credit: Genaro Servín from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wide-ranging essay from New Zealand discusses the many ways noise hurts our health, from hearing loss to diabetes and death.

A quieter environment is better for us all, and it shouldn’t take a superhuman effort to make it happen. Lowering the volume of music in public spaces is an easy first step.

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.

Airplane noise is an increasing problem in San Francisco

Photo credit: Jim Trodel licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article discusses the problem of airplane noise from San Francisco International Airport (airport code SFO). One of the people affected was Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who lives near the airport. She was at home, rather than in Washington, because she was recovering from surgery.

As others have found, when they are at home all day rather than in the office, environmental noise pollution really is a problem. Often it’s gas-powered leaf blowers, but this time it’s airplane noise.

Airplane noise isn’t just an annoyance. Aircraft noise causes heart disease, strokes, and death.

Maybe the fact that an elected official is herself affected by airplane noise will lead to some federal action to help solve this problem.

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.

Reducing Loud Sounds and Noise: A Health Matter

Photo credit: Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s board member and co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, has an important article in the latest issue of The Hearing Journal.

Noise bothers people but it’s more than a nuisance. It is a public health hazard causing auditory disorders, such as hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and non-auditory health problems, like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death.

The scientific data about these problems and the causal nature of the relationships between noise and human disease is overwhelming.

There is always a need for more research, but there can be no rational doubt about the data. And the engineering techniques to make things quieter have been known since the 1960s. Making the world quieter is a political problem, not a scientific problem.

Those of us old enough to remember when restaurants, offices, planes, trains, and buses were filled with unwanted cigarette smoke know that banning smoking in public spaces has made the air we breathe cleaner, with dramatic impacts on health and well-being.

As with smoke, it will be with noise. If enough people complain to enough elected officials, or run for public office on a platform of making the world a quieter place, it can be made quieter, 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.

Hospitals can be made quieter

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This BBC report informs us that hospitals can become quieter. Anyone who has been in a hospital–and I have spent decades working in them–knows that despite signs encouraging quiet, they have become noisier. And studies document that, too.

But with a little effort, they can be made quieter.

Most people aren’t aware of major efforts–coordinated over the last several years and involving specialty societies and expert groups setting goals and developing standards to be implemented by hospitals, health care professionals, emergency services responders, and an informed public–that have dramatically improved medical care and patient outcomes for serious medical problems. When someone calls 911 to report a heart attack or stroke, an entire team is mobilized to treat the patient with clot-busting drugs as quickly as possible, ideally within only 60 minutes of the event. These “Code White”, “Code Stroke”, or “Stroke Attack” programs mean that the patient usually walks out of the hospital not only alive but with minimal or even no residual effects from the heart attack or stroke.

If the health care system can organize itself to treat these serious medical problems so quickly that the patients recover without harm, it should be able to work towards making hospitals and other health care facilities quieter. This isn’t rocket science. It’s basic acoustic engineering.

Members of The Quiet Coalition also serve on committees for the Facilities Guidance Institute, which sets standards for health care facilities. There are guidelines and standards for noise levels. The next edition of the guidelines, set to be published in 2022, will address the noise issue more vigorously.

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.

Aircraft noise kills

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report about a Columbia University study estimates how many New York City residents under the flight paths near La Guardia Airport will suffer adverse health outcomes, including shorter lives.

Noise isn’t just a nuisance. Transportation noise has been extensively studied in Europe. There can be no rational doubt about its adverse health effects, as recently summarized by Munzel et al.

This problem is recognized by European authorities, who have mandated that airports and airlines take steps to minimize noise exposure for those living near airports and under flight paths.

The FAA and CDC haven’t recognized the problem on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but if enough people speak up and demand that their elected representatives act, things can change.

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.

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.