Hearing loss

What is a safe noise exposure level for the public?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What is a safe noise exposure level for the public?

That seems like an easy question, but the answer wasn’t obvious in 2014 when I became a noise activist, trying to make the world a quieter place. My interest was in preventing auditory disorders. (I’ve since learned that noise has non-auditory health effects, too, at lower noise levels, but my focus always is on auditory health.)

The internet didn’t help much. Most links found used the 85 decibel (dB) standard, because the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders stated, and still states, that “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” This didn’t seem right to me, because I have hyperacusis and sound levels much over 75 dB hurt my ears.

It took me a year to learn that the 85 dB standard comes from the NIOSH noise criteria (pdf) and isn’t a safe noise level for the public, and not for workers, either.

Now, when one searches for “safe noise level” or “safe noise level for the public,” the overwhelming majority of links cite my several publications on this topic. As I have written, the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 dB for 24 hours, but for a variety of reasons the real safe exposure level has to be lower.

The 85 dB standard lives on, zombie-like, refusing to die, but at least accurate information about the safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is now widely accessible.

I hope accurate information about safe noise levels will empower the public to demand quiet, before we all lose our hearing.

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.

A cheaper way to buy hearing aids exists

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Eric Ravenscraft, the New York Times, discusses how tech companies are offering cheaper hearing aids online. For those with hearing loss, this may be great news.

But for those without hearing loss yet, there is a simpler and cheaper solution. Namely, it’s far better to protect your hearing now, because even the best hearing aid isn’t a  replacement for preserved natural hearing.

Noise-induced hearing loss accounts for a lot of hearing loss in the U.S., and it is entirely avoidable.

So remember, if something sounds too loud, it is too loud. If you want to preserve your natural hearing, leave the noisy environment, insert ear plugs, or you’ll 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.

New technology may help the hard of hearing

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New technology may help the hard of hearing by providing automatic captioning of live conversations on smart phones. This article by Richard Nieva, CNET, describes the technology, which is limited to Android phones, but I’m sure that Apple will soon follow with similar technology for iPhones. After all, the potential market is 50 million adults with hearing loss in the U.S., and over 400 million worldwide.

And all data suggest that, for a number of reasons, this is unfortunately a growth market.

But I can guarantee that preserved natural hearing is far better than any technological solution to hearing loss, be it hearing aids, personal sound amplification products, or the new Google app.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. Simply avoid loud noise and you won’t lose your hearing.

Your ears are like your eyes or your knees–you only have two of them! Protect them and they will last you a lifetime.

And 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.

Will kids face an epidemic of hearing loss?

Photo credit: Jonas Mohamadi from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interview of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb discusses an unprecedented epidemic of vaping among teens. According to the FDA Commissioner and the Surgeon General, the epidemic caught public health authorities by surprise.

Use of personal music players, with associated headphones or earbuds, is also very common among teens. About 90% of teens have a personal music player of one sort or another. An article last year reported found auditory damage among 14% of Dutch schoolchildren age 9-11 who used personal music players. One might call this an epidemic of personal music player use.

It takes about 40 years of noise exposure for noise-induced hearing loss to become clinically apparent, so when today’s young people are in their 40s to 50s, they will likely be as hard of hearing as today’s people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Since 2015, I have been trying to get those federal agencies responsible for protecting the public–the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission–to take action to protect young people’s hearing. I’ve also communicated with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which educates parents about the dangers of sun exposure and tobacco smoke, but not about noise.

I’m going to add the Surgeon General to my list. A predecessor issued a Call to Action about skin cancer, but no one has said anything about noise in more than 50 years.

So far my appeals have largely been ignored.

So the question is this: Will there be an unprecedented epidemic of hearing loss in children and teens when they get older? And will those charged with protecting Americans’ health remember that they were warned?

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.

They really don’t make music like they used to

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Greg Milner, the New York Times, discusses the changes in audio technology that make the average sound of popular songs louder. The piece is a fascinating look at how modern music is engineered to be loud–“loudness as a measure of sound within a particular recording.”

Milner states that “[m]any audio pros maintain that excessive loudness creates aural fatigue.”

I would add, “and doctors and audiologists also maintain that excessive loudness causes noise-induced hearing loss.”

Remember: if it sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect your hearing before it’s too late.

Thanks to Arnold Gordon for bringing this article to our attention.

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.

CDC educates public about the dangers of noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Our contacts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have informed The Quiet Coalition that the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health will be educating the public about the dangers of noise exposure at sports events, via advertisements in official printed programs for NHL, NBA, and NFL games, including this year’s Super Bowl LIII. An example of the advertisement appears at the top of this post. One of the ads suggests that these efforts will even extend to NASCAR races.

Research done by the CDC showed that about 25% of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, and that 53% of these people with NIHL had no major occupational exposure to loud noise. The hearing damage was occurring outside the workplace.

We applaud the CDC’s educational effort, but suspect that, as with creating the largely smoke-free environment we now enjoy, much more must be done. Namely, real change won’t happen until government regulations are promulgated that set standards for noise levels in different settings and require the use, or at least the offer, of hearing protection devices to attendees. Nothing less will protect the nation’s auditory health.

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.

Stadium noise is still a problem

Phto credit: David Reber licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article predicted that crowd noise in Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, would be a problem for the visiting New England Patriots. Arrowhead Stadium is where the Guinness world record stadium noise of 142.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA) was recorded. That exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible exposure level for occupational noise.

Well, it was noisy, but the Patriots won in overtime and will be in the Super Bowl. And in New Orleans, the visiting Los Angeles Rams quieted the noisy New Orleans Saints crowd, also by winning in overtime, setting a matchup with the Patriots.

I hope those attending the few remaining football games–the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl are the only professional games until August–wear hearing protection. Because any temporary symptoms of ringing in the ears or muffling of sound indicate that permanent auditory damage has occurred, presaging noise-induced hearing loss.

There’s no cure for hearing loss, which makes government inaction in the face of intentionally loud noise particularly galling. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, and to not get it, we simply have to avoid loud noise or wear hearing protection.

So if you are headed to the few remaining games, bring your earplugs–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.

A new insight into hearing

This image from “Comparative Anatomy” (1936) has no known copyright restrictions.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Stephen Mraz, MachineDesign, writes about a new findings by MIT researchers that is providing insight into hearing, specifically how a very thin layer in the cochlea helps humans pick out one voice among many in a crowd. Mraz notes that the new findings could lead to better hearing aids.

I’m not sure I understand the research, and it probably has to be confirmed by other studies, but the inability to understand speech in a noisy environment is a problem for many older adults. One thing I do know for sure, though, is that loud noise damages the auditory system.

So while I am happy to hear that research is continuing to uncover how human hearing works and how noise damages it, I wish every article and report on the latest research would add a statement telling readers that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

And 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.

Bikers at risk of profound hearing loss

Photo credit: ajay bhargav GUDURU from Pexels

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

According to this article by Matt Colley for the British Motorcyclists Federation, bikers are making themselves deaf. Not exactly surprising, but the cause of the hearing loss isn’t just from riding loud motorcycles, it’s from exposure to wind noise.

Colley states that “[w]hen riding at 62mph, 95dB of noise turbulence is generated by the airflow within your helmet.” 95 decibels is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss. The article continues, adding that “even at standards speeds, exposure to wind noise can have significant consequences.” So what happens if a motorcyclist goes faster? “Unsurprisingly, the faster you go the higher the noise level and consequently the higher level of risk,” says Colley, adding that at 74mph the turbulence ratchets “up to 98dB, which can be damaging after only seven minutes of exposure.”

Ironic isn’t it? People ride big, loud motorcycles because they love the sense of freedom and power and yes—they like being noticed. Meanwhile, motorcycle manufacturers–even Harley Davidson–are already developing quiet, battery-powered bikes. But a quiet, electric motorcycle, while clearly an improvement for helpless bystanders, won’t solve the wind-noise problem that the British Motorcycle Federation says is the real cause of hearing loss among motorcycle riders.

As Colley notes, it’s important for riders to hear sounds that are necessary for situational awareness, like horns and sirens. He adds that wind noise causes fatique, requiring rider to concentrate more. So what does he suggest? Something we at The Quiet Coalition have recommended since our inception–always use ear protection when you are exposed to loud noise.

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.

Is the New York Philharmonic dangerously loud?

Photo credit: Shinya Suzuki licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One usually associates loud music with rock concerts and not classical music played by one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, but that has changed. This report by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, a New York Times music critic, says the New York Philharmonic is playing too loudly. Her concern is the effect loud playing has on the quality of the music, not preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

When I attend a concert, my concerns are about both.

I have hyperacusis, a condition where sound levels not bothersome to others cause discomfort and pain for me. And I know that noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.

When Essa-Pekka Salonen was music director, the Philharmonic’s sound levels weren’t a problem. But under his successor, the wonderful Gustavo Dudamel, they are.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Dudamel’s conducting, and most of the time the orchestra’s sound is exquisite. But he plays some pieces about 10 decibels louder than Maestro Salonen did, e.g., Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Now I make sure to bring a pair of earplugs with me when we go.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

And with louder symphony orchestras, hearing loss and other auditory problems aren’t just a worry for the musicians. They might be problems for the audience, 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.