Hearing loss

Eric Clapton has tinnitus and is losing his hearing

 

Photo credit: Majvdl licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

And so he told BBC Radio while promoting his new documentary, “Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars.” Every pop culture site has reported some version of this story, but not one asks why or how he has tinnitus and hearing loss, even as the Variety piece linked above notes:

Clapton isn’t the only musician who’s dealt with tinnitus. The Who’s Pete Townshend has also discussed his own problems with the condition and hearing loss.

Townshend did more than that–he pointed his finger squarely at earphones used in studio as the cause of his hearing loss and expresses concern about earbud exposure among the youth.

Perhaps music and entertainment magazine should look into how and why music icons are suffering hearing loss and educate their audience on how to avoid the same fate.

Information is our weapon against noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As this column by Jane Brody discusses, 47 years ago the Center for Science in the Public Interest started informing the public about good nutrition and also influencing public policy about food labeling and nutrition standards.

CSPI’s success has been mixed, but it clearly has had a major impact.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I became a noise activist three years ago–after reading this article in The New York Times science section about hyperacusis, which I have–I set out to do the same thing for noise that CSPI has done for food and nutrition.

Everything I do regarding noise is based on scientific and medical evidence. To my surprise, most of the information I have written about has been known since the early 1970s, or even earlier. It just has been forgotten since the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded (pdf) during the Reagan years. I took me a year to learn what a safe noise level is, as I wrote in the American Journal of Public Health. [Hint: it’s not 85 decibels without time limit, as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health insists on its website, with the misleading statement “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” That’s true, but it’s like the National Cancer Institute saying, “standing out in the sun every day for a long time all summer long can cause skin cancer.”]

So let’s hope that regulators and policy makers will begin to recognize the dangers of noise exposure in the new year. I’m certainly going to do my part to bring this problem to their attention. I hope you will join me.

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.

Noise is the next great public health crisis

Photo credit: Loozrboy licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coaltion

This wonderful article from Futurism.com discusses the major problem of noise pollution as the nation and the world become increasingly urbanized.

Few remember that the U.S., government policy, as voted by Congress and signed into law in 1972, is “to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”

The article’s author, Neel V. Patel, cites extensively noise pioneer and The Quiet Coalition co-founder and board member Arline Bronzaft, PhD, who 45 years ago showed that environmental noise interfered with children’s learning.

As Patel writes:

It’s impossible to overstate how much noise pollution can wreak havoc on human health and safety. High noise levels can exacerbate hypertension, cause insomnia or sleep disturbances, result in hearing loss, and worsen a plethora of other medical conditions. All of these problems can aggravate other health issues by inducing higher levels of stress, which can cascade into worsened immune systems, heart problems, increased anxiety and depression — the list just goes on and on.

We at The Quiet Coalition agree.  So click the first link, read Patel’s article, and learn how the U.S. government’s active failure to regulate noise since 1981 all but guarantees that noise is the next great public health crisis.

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.

This new year resolve to avoid products that damage health (even when used as directed)!

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If something is worth doing, why wait to do it until January 1. But many people do, so here is one suggestion:

Avoid products that damage your health or the health of others when used exactly as directed.

What are these products? I can think of three: tobacco products, firearms, and earbuds or headphones using 85 decibels as a safe volume limit (without any exposure time recommended). 85 decibels isn’t a safe volume limit. It’s an occupational noise exposure standard that even with strict time limits doesn’t prevent hearing loss in all exposed workers.

If you believe in New Year’s resolutions, one of your’s should be this: I won’t use products that when used as directed damage my health or the health of others.

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.

Loud music is just as addictive as smoking

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from New Zealand states that loud music is just as addictive as smoking.

The only quibble I have with the report is that it states that hearing loss begins at an 85 decibel exposure and that 85 decibels is a safe volume limit for children. Neither statement is correct. Both I and the NIOSH Science Blog have written about how the 85 decibel standard is an occupational standard that should not be used a a safe noise exposure standard for the general public.

But the basic premise of the report–that noise exposure from personal music player use by children is causing hearing loss–is sound.

So break the habit, and lower the volume. Your ears will thank you.

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.

Four in 10 UK adults unknowingly endanger their hearing on a daily basis

Photo credit: Gary J. Wood licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report states that 40% of adults in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) unknowingly endanger their hearing on a daily basis.

This finding fits neatly with Dr. Gregory A. Flamme’s report that 70% of U.S. adults get total noise doses exceeding safe limits and Dr. Richard Neitzel’s similar finding in a Swedish population.

This isn’t rocket science–noise exposure for the ear is like sun exposure for the skin. If you don’t want deep wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancers when you get older, wear a hat, long sleeves, sunscreen, and avoid the sun.

If you don’t want hearing aids when you get older, avoid noise exposure.

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.

Will earbuds ruin my hearing?

Photo credit: Marcus Quigmire licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The headline for this article in Time magazine is “Will earbuds ruin my hearing?” The short answer is that it’s not the earbuds or headphones that damage hearing, but the noise emanating from them. The longer answer follows.

The article widely cites Dr. Robert Dobie at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio who says that earbud use isn’t a problem.

It also cites Harvard researcher Dr. M. Charles Liberman, who, with Dr. Sharon Kujawa, discovered the phenomenon now known as hidden hearing loss. This is damage to nerve junctions (synapses) in the ear, called hidden because it is not detected by standard hearing tests.

Dr. Liberman says that earbud use might be a problem.

Dr. Dobie’s assertion that earbud use isn’t a problem sounds just like the doctors in the 1950s and 1960s who insisted that smoking cigarettes wasn’t harmful to health. We now know differently.

My conclusion is that noise causes hearing loss. The human ear was not designed to withstand loud noise exposure because such a tolerance offered no evolutionary advantage. As I wrote in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 decibels time-weighted average for a day. I further explained, in a requested blog post for AJPH, that the real safe noise exposure level is probably lower than that.

We know, from decades of research on occupational noise exposure that led to the occupational safety criteria for noise exposure, from the work of Liberman and colleagues, and from hundreds or thousands of studies showing that noise damages hearing in animals and humans with the cellular and sub-cellular mechanisms of how this occurs now precisely understood that noise causes hearing loss.

If you believe Dr. Dobie, continue to listen to your personal music player using earbuds or headphones.

If you don’t want hearing aids when you are older (and I don’t think hearing loss is part of normal aging, as I said at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zürich in June 2017) my advice is not to use earbuds.

Your ears are like your eyes or your knees. God only gave you two of them. Protect them and keep them safe and working well your entire life.

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.

Are we placing people with hearing loss at the heart of the design process?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

That’s the question asked in this report from the UK publication Planning & Building Control Today.

And the answer? In a word, “No.”

The needs of those with auditory disorders–hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis–and other conditions such as dementia, autism, attention disorders, and neurocognitive disorders, are not considered in most building projects.

Acoustic consultants are only called in afterwards, when a problem becomes apparent, if at all.

In the U.S., the Facilities Guidance Institute does provide some criteria for acoustic issues in health care facilities but much more needs to be done, in restaurants, malls, retail stores, and transportation hubs, for those with auditory and other problems affected by ambient noise.

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.

Cigarette use has dropped sharply among teens

Photo credit: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in the New York Times documents a sharp drop in smoking by teenagers.

Finally, decades of public health education about the dangers of smoking, restrictions on sales of cigarettes to minors, cigarette advertising, and no-smoking laws, appear to have worked.

Smoking is no longer cool. It doesn’t hurt that increased cigarette taxes have raised the average price of a pack of cigarettes above $6 in the U.S., and as much as $13 a pack in New York City, forcing most teens to choose between smoking and other things they’d rather do.

This report gives me hope that public health authorities can do something to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in teens by educating them about the dangers of noise for hearing; by requiring warning labels on personal music players, earbuds, and headphones; by restricting sales and use to older teens, perhaps above age 15; and perhaps by taxing these devices to fund a federal account to provide hearing aids to those damaged by personal music player use.

A recent editorial in the journal Pediatrics, titled “Adolescent Hearing Loss: Rising or Not, It Remains a Concern,” indicates that the problem is finally getting some attention in the pediatric community. [Note: The Pediatrics link is to a short abstract.  Subscription needed to read the full article.]

The first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was published in 1964. I hope it doesn’t take more than 50 years to protect young people’s hearing.

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.

Low Frequency Noise May Account for the Intolerability of Gas Leaf Blowers

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Jamie Banks, PhD, and Erica Walker, PhD

Boston, MA —Complaints by many residents over commercial gas leaf blower use may be explained by a strong low frequency component, according to a pilot study conducted by researchers. The study found low frequency noise from commercial gas leaf blowers persisted at high levels for 800 feet from the source. Low frequency sound travels over long distances and penetrates walls and windows. “Our finding helps explain why so many people are complaining about the effects this noise is having on their health and quality of life,” said Jamie Banks of Quiet Communities and co-author of the study. “At these levels, operating even one gas leaf blower can affect an entire neighborhood.”

Loud noise is known to harm hearing and non-hearing health, causing cardiovascular disturbances, psychological distress, and disruptions to learning and concentration. Vulnerable populations include landscape workers, children, senior, and people with hearing and neurological disorders, such as autism. More than 100 million people in the US are estimated to be exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise.

The study appears online Nov 3, 2017 in the Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies. It is the first in the U.S. to explore the characteristics of sound from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

Sound from leaf blowers and a hose vacuum—equipment commonly used in landscape maintenance—was over 100 dbA at the source and decreased over distance. However, the low frequency component persisted at high levels. “From a community perspective, the sound ratings supplied by manufacturers do not take frequency into consideration,” said co-author Erica Walker, a recent graduate of the doctoral program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our findings suggest that reporting more information on a sound’s character may be a step in the right direction,” she adds.

A Finnish study presented in 2004 also found strong tonal and low frequency components among various brands of commercial gas leaf blowers. These are the types of sound poorly tolerated by humans and which become amplified in indoor settings.

The dB(A) is the standard used by manufacturers to rate the sound of their equipment and is the metric communities use to set regulatory policy. “We now know that this metric breaks down in instances where there is a significant low frequency noise component,” said Walker. In fact, in the International Institute for Noise Control Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering have both indicated that the dB(A) is not sufficient for describing the impact of sound that contains a strong low frequency component.

Gas leaf blowers are identified as sources of harmful noise by the US Centers for Disease Control, US EPA as well as the national landscape industry association. “People need to recognize that this type of noise is not just an annoyance, it is a public health problem. We need think about prevention,” said Banks.

For more information:

Jamie Banks: jlbanks@quietcommunities.org

Erica Walker: erica@noiseandthecity.org

Originally posted at Quiet Communities.