by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
Anniversaries are special. We celebrate wedding anniversaries. Alcoholics Anonymous celebrates the anniversaries of those who are in recovery. Wounded military veterans celebrate their Alive Day, the day on which they were wounded. And yesterday was my anniversary, the fourth anniversary of my becoming a noise activist.
I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve, 2007. As midnight approached, they kept turning up the music louder and louder. My wife could tell that the noise was bothering me and suggested that we leave, but I didn’t want to offend our friends who had arranged the dinner. As soon as it was polite to leave, maybe 12:30 a.m., we did. My ears were ringing when we left, and the ringing never stopped.
I also found that noise that didn’t bother others hurt my ears: Movie soundtracks, the grind of a food processor, loud exhausts and sirens, and especially noise in restaurants. I’m a doctor and have always done what I could to stay healthy. But I had no idea that a one-time exposure to loud noise could cause tinnitus and hyperacusis for the rest of my life. When my wife would suggest an evening out, I would ask, “Can’t we eat at home?”
On December 2, 2014, I read an article about hyperacusis in the New York Times science section, written by journalist Joyce Cohen, who has since become a friend. I circled it in red and gave it to my wife, saying, “Honey, this is why I don’t want to go to restaurants any more. They are all too noisy. The noise hurts my ears. Just like it says in this article.” My wife finally understood that while I might have been getting grumpier with age, my dislike of noisy restaurants was caused by an auditory disorder.
So I decided to do something to make the world a quieter place. I reached out via email to the four experts cited in Joyce’s article. One thing led to another, and I ended up serving on the board of the American Tinnitus Association and helping create The Quiet Coalition, where I am the board chair.
I learned that I wasn’t the only person in the world with auditory disorders. Hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis are all too common. But auditory disorders are invisible, and largely occur in older people, who themselves are largely invisible in our society. Except for congenital deafness, auditory disorders tend to be ignored.
It’s been quite an odyssey. I found that via the internet, I could communicate with experts in various areas of noise, across the country and even around the world. At the urging of one of them, I submitted abstracts to scientific meetings about noise. Those were accepted for presentation, and I spoke at national and international scientific meetings. I have had publications based on my talks appear in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, and I have been quoted in articles and have advised national and international health authorities about noise. And I have learned, through the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research, how truly life-limiting noise-induced hearing problems can be. All because I read an article and decided to do something to make the world quieter.
The world is still too noisy, and I still can’t find a quiet restaurant, but apps like iHEARu and SoundPrint are now available.
And as more evidence becomes available about noise as a health and public health hazard, I am confident that an informed public will push legislators and public health officials to eliminate unnecessary 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.