Health and Noise

How I became a noise activist

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This essay by pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, describes how she became a detective and public health activist after detecting high lead levels in her patients’ blood in Flint, Michigan.

It reminded me of how I became a noise activist after reading an article about hyperacusis, a medical condition in which noise causes pain at sound levels not perceived as painful by others.

Just as with the safe lead level being known but ignored, the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss has been known since at least 1974, but ignored by regulators and public health authorities after the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded by Congress during the deregulatory era that was the Reagan years. It took me a year to figure out what the safe noise exposure level was to prevent hearing loss.

Fortunately, public health authorities have begun to recognize the dangers of noise exposure for the public. As this report shows, noise has adverse non-auditory health effects and may be causally associated with dementia.

But we must pressure our elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels to set safe noise exposure standards, and then to enforce these, to protect the health of ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

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.

Justice prevails: Federal court rules sound cannon can be excessive police force

Alex Pasternack, Fast Company, reports on a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decision that ruled “[a] powerful speaker that’s capable of causing hearing damage and is used by a growing number of police around the world isn’t merely a ‘communication device’ but, potentially, an instrument of excessive force.” The court was addressing the appeals of two New York City police officers who were seeking qualified immunity in a lawsuit that accused “them of using unconstitutionally excessive force when they deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2014.”

The 2nd circuit affirmed a decision last June in which District Court Judge Robert Sweet, of the southern district of New York, ruled that the sound emitted by a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) used by the New York City Police Department to order protestors onto sidewalks “could be considered a form of force.”

Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, writiing for the 2nd circuit, found that “purposely using an LRAD in a way that can cause serious injury in order to move non-violent protesters violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Judge Katzmann added that, “this Court’s longstanding test for excessive force claims teaches that force must be necessary and proportionate to the circumstances … [T]he problem posed by protesters in the street did not justify the use of force, much less force capable of causing serious injury, such as hearing loss.”

It is never acceptable for any police force to use sound cannons against non-violent protestors. Period.

Loud music listened to on headphones is causing hearing loss in children

Photo credit: Gordon licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My main noise issue is restaurant noise, but I have learned about other noise issues, too. When I figured out that the oft-cited 85 decibel standard is an occupational noise exposure standard, and not a safe noise exposure standard for the public, I sent emails and letters to the audiologists quoted in media reports. When I realized that 85 decibels was used as a safe volume limit for headphones marketed for toddlers as young as 3 years, I called this to the attention of pediatricians, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control. My efforts, sadly, have thus far been unsuccessful.

My worries were based on theoretical concerns. There was no way that loud noise without a time exposure limit could be safe for children. Now this report documents that the hearing loss I was worried about isn’t a theoretical concern any more. Namely, the news article writes about a study conducted by Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, in which scientists “studied more than 5,000 children aged nine to 11-years-old over three years, found one in seven of the youngsters had suffered some hearing loss.”

The study is preliminary. The hearing tests were done as part of a study of normal child development in Rotterdam, but not specifically to determine whether personal music player use caused hearing loss. More than 5,000 children were enrolled in the study, but complete hearing tests were available for only about 3,000, and personal music player use was assessed by parental report. Despite these limitations, the study found that 14% of the children, now just under 11 years old, had some type of hearing impairment.

That said, one must ask what is causing this early onset hearing loss. The researchers believe the cause may be children’s use of headphones to listen to portable music players.

Maybe this will spur regulatory authorities into action. At the very least, parents and grandparents can take these headphones away from their little darlings, and give them instead the gift of continued good hearing.

The problem with headphones isn’t just hearing loss. As a parent and soon to be grandparent, I know that talking with children and listening to what they say–almost from the time they are born–is one of the most important ways to teach them words and language, to establish a relationship with them, and to educate them about the world. Giving the child a personal music player or video player and headphones can occupy the child for hours–it’s certainly easier than carrying books and reading them to the child, or giving the child a paper and crayons, or playing with dolls or trucks or Legos–and it allows the parent to watch or listen to his or her own cellphone or personal electronic device, but it probably isn’t the best thing for the child, either.

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 board from 2015-2018.

 

Loud noises are bad for health

Photo credit: Kevin Payravi licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I think everyone knows that enough exposure to loud noise can damage hearing–even if most people don’t think it will happen to them–but few know that noise has major non-auditory health effects.

This report from HealthLine provides an excellent summary of these adverse health effects, including a weakened immune system, irritability and anxiety, difficulty sleeping and male fertility problems.

For many years, secondhand smoke was viewed as a minor nuisance and those who complained about it as weak, neurotic, unhappy complainers, or radical environmentalists. Only when the Environmental Protection Agency classified environmental tobacco smoke (as secondhand smoke is technically known) as a Class A carcinogen with no known safe exposure level was the public empowered to demand smoke free restaurants, stores, workplaces, and transportation. I think that public awareness of noise as a health hazard will similarly empower us to demand a quieter world.

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 in young people changes brain function

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Since I became a noise activist and started learning about the dangers of noise, I have been predicting an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in young people due to their ubiquitous use of personal music players with associated headphones or earbuds, often turned up loud enough to annoy me when they walk past. This article reports that young adults with subtle hearing loss also have brain function changes detected on functional MRI scans.

We don’t just hear sound with our ears. We have to process the information from the ear in the brain. According to this study, hearing loss makes the brain work harder.

There is a well-known association between hearing loss and dementia, with worse hearing being correlated with a greater risk of developing dementia. And it now looks like this problem starts in early adulthood, not late in life.

So unfortunately, I’m going to predict that there will not only be an epidemic of NIHL when today’s young people reach midlife–in their 40s and 50s, not in their 60s, 70s, and 80s–but there will also be an epidemic of early-onset dementia.

When will the public health authorities and regulators–the FDA, CDC, and Consumer Product Safety Commission–take necessary action to protect our young people?

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.

Indoor cycling classes are bad for your ears

Photo credit: jalexartis licensed under CC by 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Vox documents that sound levels in many indoor spinning or cycling classes exceed safe limits to prevent hearing loss. This is an occupational safety and health issues for the instructors, who have many more hours of exposure than those who exercise, but the background music is loud enough to endanger the hearing of those just exercising for an hour or two each week.

One wonders why the state and federal occupational safety and health inspectors haven’t taken action. Maybe this report will spur an inquiry.

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.

Preventing hearing loss in music students

Photo credit: Matt Jolly licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Many occupations have workplace hazards associated with the work performed, and different specialties have developed to deal with these hazards, occupational medicine, industrial hygiene, and workers compensation law among them.

Hearing loss is the most common occupational injury. One usually thinks of hearing loss as a problem for factory workers, or construction workers, or airport workers, but it’s also a problem for musicians and music students. This article reports on what audiologists at Duke University are doing to help curb hearing loss in music students.

Sounds like a good idea to us!

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.

Is your noise making me fat? – Part II

Photo credit: Magnus D licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I used to joke that a great headline to get attention paid to noise would be the one at the top of the page, based on research showing that transportation noise increases stress hormones, in turn leading to obesity and diabetes. ( Here’s a link to one of the studies showing people exposed to transportation noise had larger waist circumferences.)

But this report shows that in addition to making it difficult for patrons to carry on conversations while dining, loud background music in restaurant increases the selection of higher calorie “comfort food” menu options.

It’s a rare restaurant these days where one can converse–if one can converse at all–without straining to speak or to be heard.

That means that the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels, which is also the auditory injury threshold, and that means that diners’ hearing is being damaged.

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.

Dr. Erica Walker takes on Boston’s noise

Photo credit: Robbie Shade licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Boston Globe looks at the important work conducted by Dr. Erica Walker, research scientist and creator of the NoiseScore app, who is tackling Boston’s noise head on.  As writer Chris Berdik states, “Walker may know more about noise in Boston than anyone.” And because she also knows about the dangers of noise, Walker is dedicated to informing the public about this “little-studied pollution.”  As Berdik writes:

New research by Walker and others suggests that noise doesn’t just hurt our hearing. Chronic noise exposure floods the body with stress hormones that can lead to higher blood pressure, more blood clots, and a greater likelihood of heart problems and stroke.

Berdik says that Walker believes public health researchers “don’t take noise seriously enough, particularly in the United States,” and that her goal it to change that by “starting with creating a more comprehensive measure of noise exposure”

We applaud Dr. Walker’s hard work and dedication in protecting our public health.

A simple treatment may minimize hearing loss triggered by loud noise

Photo credit: ZaldyImg licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report discusses a simple treatment that may minimize hearing loss triggered by loud noise.

It’s interesting that the sense of fullness in the ear after loud noise exposure is actually caused by swelling in the inner ear. Many people report this sensation, and a decreased ability to hear, after attending a rock concert or using loud power tools.

I have the same comments about this report as I made about the many similar previous reports of treatments to prevent hearing loss after noise exposure:

1. This is a very preliminary report. Even if this report is confirmed by other studies, it will take years if not decades for the treatment to be approved for human use.

2. In this case, injecting a solution through the ear drum into the middle ear isn’t as easy as one might think. The ear drum is very sensitive and contact causes pain. So I’m not sure how people are going to be able to do this.

3. Finally, other than for the soldiers who may not be able to avoid noise exposure, for most people it’s easy to avoid noise exposure–avoid loud noise or use hearing protection if you can’t.

Prevention of a problem is a whole lot better than trying to treat it.

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.