Hearing loss

Association of hearing loss with dementia

Photo credit: Fechi Fajardo licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in JAMA Network Open reports an association of hearing loss with the development of dementia in Taiwan. Similar associations have been reported in the United States.

Prevention of hearing loss and provision of hearing aids might help, but I prefer prevention in the first instance.  After all, prevention is almost always better and cheaper than treatment, especially for auditory disorders, and noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

So to preserve your hearing and more, avoid loud noise or use hearing protection if you can’t. And remember: 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.

Another app to help people with hearing loss

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Gadgets360 writes about Google’s Sound Amplifier app, which enhances the volume and clarity of sound for people with partial hearing impairment. The app was formerly available only for the latest smartphones, but now can be used with older devices.

A quick Google search didn’t find any peer-reviewed scientific articles describing how well Sound Amplifier works in real life, but there were multiple links describing Google’s new commitment to help those with auditory disabilities.

Of course, preventing a disability is much better than treating a disability. Preserved normal hearing is better than any hearing aid or smartphone app, and noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

So avoid loud noises and use hearing protection if you can’t. 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.

Animal study may have implications on human hearing issues

Photo credit: Батяшев Александр licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitionhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

I’ve only read the press release and the abstract for this paper in JNeurosci but the findings are interesting. In chinchillas–a common animal model for hearing research–scientists at the University of Rochester and Purdue University found that mild noise-induced hearing loss also caused changes in nerve processing of auditory signals.

This may have implications for humans in terms of the very common “speech in noise” problem, in which people with normal audiograms complain that they can’t understand a conversation if the ambient noise level is moderate to high.

But to me, the most important implication of this study is that it emphasizes how important it is to protect our ears.

The only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels a day and even that low level of noise exposure may be too high.

According to the World Health Organization, only one hour at 85 A-weighted decibels is enough to cause hearing loss.

The CDC states that noise-Induced hearing loss is entirely preventable.  Avoid exposure to loud noise, or wear hearing protection if one can’t.

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.

Columbia project on hearing loss focuses on the brain

Photo Credit: This U.S. Army graphic is in the public domain

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

The hearing loss space is attracting investment again after nearly four decades of being starved for funding. New York City’s Columbia University is working on a project that shows us what investors are looking into: the hidden parts of hearing that involve brain circuitry.

The Columbia project, unlike some of the others I’ve discussed before, won’t deliver anything practical for a very long time, but it’s still pretty interesting. Until recently hearing researchers focused on the ear and assumed that was the important part. But it turns out that the wiring between the ear and brain, specifically the regions of the brain involved in hearing, is where the action is now. In part, that’s because there’s been such a surge of federal and private money pouring into brain research over the past decade.

The Columbia research team is looking at how they might train hearing aids to distinguish the voices of specific people—the people you want to hear and nobody else. Right now, that would involve implanting electrodes into your brain–that’s what happens if you get a cochlear implant–but they’re hoping to be able to do this eventually with external devices.

What the researchers are addressing is what’s known as the Lombard Effect, discovered a century ago by the French physician Etienne Lombard, and also known as the “cocktail party effect.” It’s one of the first signs of hearing loss and consists of an inability to understand “speech-in-noise.” Example: you’re in a noisy space like a club or a party, and you’re trying to understand what your companion is saying but you’re unable to do so because of the background noise. Sound familiar? If so, you–like nearly 50 million Americans–have hearing loss.

No, there’s nothing you can do about it. Not yet. So we recommend you follow this Columbia project to see what happens next.

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.

Study urges efforts to prevent noise-induced hearing loss

This image is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Purdue University highlights research done there with the University of Rochester that shows noise-induced hearing loss has worse effects on hearing than hearing loss caused by age-related metabolic loss. Specifically, the researchers found that “noise trauma causes substantially greater changes in neural processing of complex sounds compared with age-related metabolic loss,” which the researchers think may explain why there are “large differences in speech perception commonly seen between people with the same clinically defined degree of hearing loss based on an audiogram.”

According to the CDC, noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. In public health, prevention of disease is almost always better and cheaper than treatment of a disease or condition.  For hearing, natural hearing preserved into old age is much better and much cheaper than costly hearing aids.

So remember: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.  Avoid excessive noise exposure and use hearing protection now, or need hearing aids later.

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.

13-year-old proves hand dryers hurt kids’ ears

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Thanks to some noise contacts, I was aware of this study that appeared in the official publication of the Canadian Paedriatic Society, but I hadn’t written a blog post because the article is behind a pay wall. But now thanks to the New York Times, everyone can learn about this fascinating study done by 13-year-old Nora Keegan.

Keegan spent more than a year taking sound measurements in hundreds of public restrooms to prove that the noisy hand dryers that she and other children complained about to their parents were, in fact, dangerously loud. Uncertain with how the hand dryer companies determined their decibel ratings, Keegan tested them at varying heights, including childrens’ heights. After getting a bronze, then a gold, in school science fairs with her earlier studies, Keegan was encouraged to write a paper about her findings. And she did. Click the second link to learn more about how she conducted her study.

I was delighted to read about Keegan’s interest and dedication to her study, particularly since her research confirms what I have been saying for some time now: 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.

Can Acoustic metamaterials rescue your hearing?

Photo credit: Office of Naval Research licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Boston University’s work on acoustic metamaterials is quite interesting, but it’s a long way from being available in stores if you’re concerned about hearing loss, as you should be.

Acoustic metamaterials are an exciting if little-known area of research and development that hold promise for much better, i.e., lighter, less bulky, ways to stop noise from destroying your hearing or disrupting your sleep or concentration.

The article caught my attention because I used to teach at BU, though I don’t know this research team. And I’ve also done some grant-funded work on other acoustic metamaterials in the research lab I co-founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So I am very interested in this subject.

But I mainly want to say this: The most important work on noise control right now is going on at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where leadership recognized two years ago that noise is, indeed, a serious public health hazard. That’s huge—because it brings noise out of the dark shadow it’s been hidden under at Environmental Protection Agency since 1981. The CDC’s recognition is what has triggered interest in research on a variety of solutions., and its interest should trigger funding for:

  1. Widespread work on reducing noise at the source (such as noise from airports, highways, railways, construction and \ maintenance equipment, household appliances, headphones, etc.), and
  2. Reducing noise at the receiver (such as noise-cancellation headphones or more effective, lighter, or less bulky ways to block sound from destroying your hearing).

We’ve already seen two pieces of national bi-partisan legislation pass without a fight: the 2017 bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act, and the 2018 FAA Re-Authorization Act. And at the local level, a number of cities and towns have taken up the battle: Washington DC, New York City, Southampton, New York, S. Pasadena, and others.

In fact, it feels like the tide has turned on this issue after a 38-year hiatus and hearing loss is now beginning to be recognized as a serious public health hazard. But don’t wait for this BU group to commercialize their work on acoustic metamaterials because that could be decades away. Go and buy a good pair of ear plugs or a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones AND a good pair of over-the-ear “ear muffs” (they can be found at hunting or hardware stores). Then train your family members, even the youngest children, that hearing is precious and must be protected.

Sound is like the air you breathe: omnipresent, invisible, necessary, but also potentially hazardous. Nobody will protect you if you don’t protect yourself.

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.

Doctors with disabilities? Yes, we are people too

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from NPR discusses how doctors and researchers with disabilities are changing medicine. When a problem is a secret, it is a source of shame and can’t be dealt with. If it is disclosed and discussed, however, it may still be a problem, but it can be dealt with and it is less of a source of shame.

When I spoke at the 2017 meeting of the Institute for Noise Control Engineering in Grand Rapids, Michigan, across the river from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, I noted that his wife Betty Ford was a pioneer in discussing two formerly kept secrets–that she had breast cancer and had developed an addiction to prescription drugs. She fortunately survived her breast cancer to live many years more, and successfully dealt with her addiction. I then noted that I would publicly disclose that I had two auditory disabilities, tinnitus and hyperacusis, both fortunately mild and not life-limiting, but disabilities nonetheless.

I have mild hearing loss, too, again fortunately not life-limiting except in terms of understanding speech in a noisy environment.  Prof. Margaret Wallhagen in San Francisco has written about the stigma of hearing loss. Hearing loss should be destigmatized.

More importantly, noise-induced hearing loss should be prevented.

So avoid noise or use hearing protection if you can’t avoid it, because noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

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.

Loud restaurant noise drives away people with auditory disorders

Photo credi: Franklin Heijnen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Marcella Bernanrdo, from the Vancouver CityNews, reports that loud restaurant noise is driving away people with hearing loss, because they can’t understand speech in noisy environments.

Ambient noise is a disability rights issue for those with auditory disorders. Right now, both the Canadian and U.S. economies appear strong and restaurants are busy, so no wonder restaurateurs see no need to make restaurants quieter even though restaurant noise is a major complaint even for those with normal hearing.

Given the lack of economic incentive, it will likely require legal action under disability rights law, or local action by dedicated activists demanding ordinances regulating noise, to make restaurants quieter.

I say there is no time like the present–get online, find your local politician, and ask him or her where they stand on noise.

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.

New hearing aid promises better results

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers at Columbia University have developed a new hearing aid that claims to tune out distracting voices by reading the wearer’s brain waves. People need a difference between the ambient sound level and the level of speech, called the speech-to-noise or signal-to-noise ratio, both abbreviated SNR,  to be able to understand speech. People with normal hearing need a 3 dB SNR, but those with hearing loss need a 7 dB SNR or even a 15 dB SNR to be able to understand speech.

Older analog hearing aids amplified all sounds, so they didn’t help users understand speech in a noisy environment, because all sounds were amplified. But newer digital hearing aids, with directional and tunable features, claim to have solved this problem.

I haven’t seen studies of this in peer-reviewed journals, only claims from the manufacturers. Hearing aid users have told me the costly digital hearing aids are better, but still nowhere near as good as normal hearing.

If the new hearing aids discussed in the report linked above become available commercially, they are likely to cost even more than the latest digital hearing aids, which can cost up to $8,000 for a pair.

Here’s a thought: Instead of requiring people with hearing loss to drop $8,000 for the privilege of understanding speech in public spaces, why not make restaurants and stores quieter? That would make everyone more comfortable in the space, and would help everyone understand speech.

And the simplest way of making a restaurant or store costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified background music!

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.