Hearing loss

Can’t hear well? There’s an app for that!

Photo credit: Courtesy of App MyEar

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the University of Rochester’s Rochester Review alumni magazine discusses a new app to translate personal conversations into text. The developer, Brandon Isobe, got the idea for the app because his father is deaf. The app, App MyEar, is pretty straight forward: you open the app, speak into the phone and the app translates the words into text. It’s “essentially closed captioning for personal conversations,” says Isobe.

It’s great that innovators are looking for ways to help people with hearing loss.  Of course, for those of us who can hear, preventing hearing loss by avoiding noise exposure and using hearing protection if we can’t remains the best option.

DISCLOSURE: I am a graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

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 impact of hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I usually don’t listen to podcasts or watch documentaries–they take too much time to transmit the information that I can read in a fraction of the time–but this discussion of the impact hearing loss by Michael Wilkes, MD, isn’t available in a print version.

I heard the tail end of Dr. Wilkes’ weekly radio segment in the car, and looked online to find the rest.

It clocks in at under 4 minutes, and it’s well worth listening to.

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.

Consumer Reports continues to focus on noise and health

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Consumer Reports continues to cover issues of noise and health, which is a good thing. The only problem with this Consumer Reports article is that falls into a common trap and cites the occupational recommended exposure level of 85 A-weighted decibels for application to the public. This is a misuse of the occupational exposure recommendation that is sadly all too common.

Noise is different from other occupational exposures, e.g., ionizing radiation or toxic solvents, because exposure continues outside the workplace, all day long, all year long, for an entire lifetime.

In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure level for the additional exposure time–24 hours a day instead of 8 hours a day at work, 365 days a year instead of 240 days in the factory, to calculate that the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss was a time-weighted average of only 70 decibels.

The EPA did not adjust for lifetime exposure, probably because in 1974 the life expectancy of a man was only 67 years.  But with people living on average to near 80, the additional years of noise exposure may account for the very high prevalence of hearing loss in older people.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, covered this topic, and I wrote about it in the American Journal of Public Health in 2017. In a requested blog post, I explained additional reasons why the real safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss has to be lower than 70 decibels.

I recently had this insight: the World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure daily because after only one hour it is impossible for the listener to achieve the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss, which is the EPA’s 70 dB daily noise dose.  An occupational noise calculator shows this calculation. So, 85 decibels isn’t safe for workers’ hearing, and it certainly isn’t safe for the public.

Our ears are like our knees–we only have two of them–but unlike knees, our ears can’t be replaced. So protect what you have and remember: it is 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.

Does chocolate prevent hearing loss?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This story in the Daily Mail says that chocolate may help prevent hearing loss, due to chemicals called polyphenols in chocolate. I’m not going to waste any time tracking down the original scientific article.

Over the last few decades, powerful computers and better statistical methods have made it easy–in the opinion of many scientists, too easy–to sort through large amounts of data to find interesting correlations or associations that in many cases are only random, even if they meet statistical significance and have some theoretical basis to explain why the association may be a causative one. I would put this “study” in that category.  Junk science about junk food.

I know that many people think chocolate is a health food, but too much chocolate will cause obesity, diabetes, and dental caries.

And to prevent hearing loss, why not just avoid loud noise or use hearing protection if you can’t avoid the noise. Because that’s actually safe and effective.

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.

What’s the best ear plug?

Photo credit: Your Best Digs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What’s the best ear plug? The best ear plug should be easy to use, convenient to carry so it’s always available when needed, and effective. It’s the same approach as recommended for birth control, except that instead of preventing pregnancy (and sexually transmitted infections if condoms are used), the goal is preventing hearing loss.

This article at NoisyWorld discusses the advantages of inexpensive foam, wax, and silicone earplugs, including information about noise reduction ratings. These fit in pocket or purse, so they are always available if needed. And they are inexpensive, so can be replaced when no longer effective, or if lost.

In the end, the best ear plug is the one that you will wear. Find hearing protection that works for you, 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.

Another one bites the dust

Photo credit: rufus licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Newsday discusses rocker Mark McGrath’s hearing loss. Unfortunately, he joins many other rock musicians who report hearing loss in mid-to-late life after years of noise exposure.

Noise-induced hearing loss is an occupational hazard for musicians, especially those who play popular music, but it is entirely preventable. A musician can’t avoid loud music, but use of earplugs can prevent or at least reduce hearing injury.

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.

Sound strategy

Photo credit: Robin Hall licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I know a good line when I steal one, but I always give credit. This article in EFA magazine has both a great title and good information about designing spaces in which older people can converse more easily.

The principles of universal design state that all facilities should be designed to be used by everyone–young, old, tall, short, fat, skinny, and completely abled or not–and the design of the space should include its soundscape. So why not apply these principles to all interior spaces–and not just spaces dedicated for older peopleand design spaces that allow everyone to speak and be heard?

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.

Mainstream media finally discover noise

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

We’re delighted that The Quiet Coalition co-founder and distinguished scientist Richard Neitzel, PhD, of the Univ. of Michigan School of Public Health, is cited in the recent issue of Woman’s Day magazine.

Rick’s research is well known at respected national and international agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Those are powerful but small audiences. But his appearance in Woman’s Day magazine–with its circulation of 3.4 million American households–indicates that the health effects of noise are becoming a “mainstream” issue, one that the popular press and its millions of readers are beginning to hear about above the “noise” of all the other contentious, interesting and competing subjects they have to cover every week.

That’s progress! And it’s because of rigorous, independent research by people like Dr. Neitzel that media outlets are paying attention. Kudos Rick!

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.

Noisy restaurants are a problem in Seattle

Photo credit: Joe Mabel licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Jill Lightner, The Seattle Times, discusses noisy restaurants in the Seattle area. Lightner reports that indeed restaurants have gotten louder, and discusses some of the reasons why. She also reports that when people contact her, their most common request isn’t for a good restaurant, or an exciting new one, but for a quiet one.

This isn’t a new complaint. In the last few years, Zagat surveys document restaurant noise as the first or second most common complaint, alternating with poor service depending on the city and the year.

If the markets don’t provide what people really want, that’s an example of what the economists call market failure. Government intervention by laws and regulations is necessary.

To those of us old enough to remember when smoking was allowed in restaurants, the issue of restaurant noise is akin to smoke-filled bars and restaurants. In fact, people have stated, “noise is the new secondhand smoke.”

In those ancient days, most people wanted smoke-free restaurants, but the tobacco lobby falsely pushed claims of smoking as a personal liberty issue, and those who complained were viewed as selfish, neurotic, or un-American. Finally, a combination of continued public pressure and the EPA determination that secondhand smoke was a Class A carcinogen, with no safe lower level of exposure, did lead to laws and regulations banning smoking indoors. We all live more comfortable and healthier lives as a result.

Similarly, noisy restaurants are an example of market failure.

Lightner wrongly states in her article that auditory damage begins after two hours exposure to 90 decibel (dB) sound. But, in fact, the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 dB time-weighted average for a day, and it’s mathematically impossible to achieve that exposure level after two hours at 90 dB. As this article notes, most American adults get exposed to enough noise in everyday life to cause hearing loss. The article adds that the auditory injury threshold is 75 to 78 A-weighted decibels.

You don’t need expensive equipment or even a sound meter app on your smartphone to measure this. If you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient sound is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

Quieter restaurants aren’t just a matter of being able to converse with your dining companions.  They are an issue of auditory health.  Ask your elected officials at the local, state, and national level to enact legislation to require quieter restaurants.

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.

Yesterday was World Hearing Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization declared March 3, 2019, as World Hearing Day.

Each year the WHO selects a theme for its observation of this day. This year’s theme is early detection of hearing loss, and the WHO will release an online hearing test so you can screen your hearing.

It’s important to know if you have hearing loss, but it’s more important to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

So remember: If something sounds too loud, it IS too loud! Avoid loud noise when you can, and when you can’t, wear hearing protection.

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.