Hearing protection

Is your music making you deaf?

Photo credit: Harrison Haines from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is your music making you deaf?  That’s the title of this post from BWorld online.

The answer, technically, is no. Deafness means congenital absence of hearing, or profound hearing loss. Loud music won’t make you deaf. But loud music can certainly cause hearing loss.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are occupational hazards of being a rock musician. And loud music is a threat to auditory health of concert goers and clubgoers and those who listen to loud music on their personal listening devices.

We recommend avoiding loud music all the time. There is no such thing as temporary auditory damage.

If the music (or any other sound) sounds too loud, it IS too loud. Turn down the volume, leave the area, use hearing protection, or accept that you’ll probably need hearing aids in the future.

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 young person develops tinnitus from loud music

Photo credit: edoardo tommasini from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from The Irish News discusses TV personality and actor Jamie Laing, who developed tinnitus at age 31 from listening to loud music. He woke up one morning hearing a loud buzzing noise. He searched his house to see where it was coming from, but then realized that it was inside his own head.

This is called tinnitus, ringing in the ears but technically defined as a perception of noise with no external sound source.

Mr. Laing sought medical attention. His discussion of what his doctor said and his reaction to that is a good summary of what many others have said:

“My GP said there were a number of possible causes but exposure to loud music in nightclubs was the most likely one in my case,” says Jamie, who is dating fellow Made In Chelsea star Sophie ‘Habbs’ Habboo (26).

“My GP explained there was no cure, but it would probably go away eventually on its own as I got used to it. There were treatments available to help me come to terms with it, until it did,” says Jamie.

“At first I couldn’t believe I could have tinnitus, I thought it only affected older people or people who were exposed to loud bangs – but it’s more common than people think. I’d been to festivals and concerts and listened to music on headphones – the louder the better when I was younger.

“But I’d never stood next to the speakers at concerts, or been in a band – I’d probably been to a few too many festivals where the music was loud and never worn ear plugs.

“I wish I had now – protecting your ears against loud noise is so important.”

I’m just back from Geneva, where I spoke about the need for regulation of club and concert noise at the World Health Organization consultation on its Make Listening Safe program. WHO is working on these recommendations, including requirements for sound limits and for warning signs about the dangers of noise, and also requiring offer of free earplugs.

Because as with Mr. Laing, most people, young or old, don’t know that exposure to loud music, whether many times or even only one time, can cause tinnitus for the rest of one’s life.

That’s how I developed tinnitus, after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve 2007.

I wish I had known the basic rule: if it sounds too loud, it is too loud! Ask for the volume to be lowered, leave the noisy environment, insert earplugs, or possibly face lifelong tinnitus, like me and Jamie Laing and millions of others.

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.

Even with noise limits, loud noise at events still causes hearing damage

Photo credit: Wendy Wei from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Netherlands reports that even with a regulatory maximum noise level for events and concerts, auditory damage still occurred. The Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare, and Sports set the maximum noise level for events and concerts at 103 decibels (dB).

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure levels for noise are 1.5 hours at 100 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and one hour at 105 dBA. A-weighting adjusts the frequencies of sound for those heard in human speech. A-weighted sound measurements almost always are lower than unweighted measurements, with the exact difference depending on a variety of factors.

So 103 dB is pretty high, loud enough to cause hearing loss.

The problem with the Dutch noise levels was that the Dutch regulators somehow assumed that those attending loud events would be wearing hearing protection, but neglected to include this important requirement in information distributed to the public. About half of Dutch concertgoers never wear hearing protection, so they must be sustaining auditory damage, including noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.

The trade association representing music venues, concert halls, and event organizers maintains that it is the responsibility of those attending events and concerts to protect their own hearing, but I disagree. I think it’s the responsibility of governments and public health authorities to protect the public, or at least to give them complete and accurate information. Not “caveat auditor”!

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.

Why are spin classes so loud (and does it matter)?

Photo credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Why are spin classes so loud? This post on The Cut doesn’t really answer that question, but it does a nice job of explaining the dangers of excessive noise for auditory health.

A few years ago I had email exchanges with two researchers who study the effects of noise on athletic performance. Music with a specific beat can help rhythmic activities, like running or spinning at a constant pace, but despite common belief there is no evidence that loud music makes anyone run faster or lift more weight, or in this case spin faster.

Even if music does improve performance–or people think it improves their performance–those theoretical advantages are outweighed by almost certain auditory damage, including hearing loss and tinnitus.

I’m glad the author of this piece had a best friend who became an audiologist and educated her about the dangers of noise. Because if the noise in your spin class–or any exercise class, or really anywhere at all–sounds too loud, it is too loud.

And if the noise is loud enough to be painful, it’s dangerous for your ears. Period.

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.

Popular Science looks at hidden hearing loss

Photo credit: Maurício Mascaro from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This well-written article in Popular Science discusses hidden hearing loss. Hidden hearing loss is caused by damages to the nerve junctions between the cochlear hair cells and the auditory nerves. It’s called “hidden” because the damage isn’t detected by standard pure tone audiometry tests, only by more sophisticated testing. Patients complain that they can’t understand what people are saying in crowded or noisy situations, but the audiologist tells them, “Your hearing is fine. There’s no problem.” For decades, this was known as the “speech in noise” problem.

It turns out that there is a problem, and it’s caused by damage to the nerve junctions, which interferes with processing of the sound by the nervous system.

The problem of understanding speech in noise, which is most likely a manifestation of hidden hearing loss, isn’t rare. Approximately 10-20% of adults appear to have it, and it may even be more common in those of middle-to-older age.

More evidence supporting the need for us to protect our ears from loud 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.

What’s the Guinness World Record for the most destructively stupid event?

Photo credit: Harmony licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Americans are famous abroad for being loud. Maybe it’s because we’re all going deaf from exposing ourselves to environmental noise? Doesn’t help that Guinness, the irish brewery, has been sponsoring the “loudest stadium” competition for years now, goading American football fans to make as much noise as possible. Why? Two reasons, of course:

  1. To confuse the home team’s competition by making it impossible for their players to hear the plays being called, (otherwise known as poor sportsmanship), and
  2. To compete for the Guinness Record for “loudest stadium crowd noise.”

I understand the allure of setting a world record in something, anything, however dumb. But why make yourself deaf in the process? The article above says the loudest they’ve recorded so far in the stadium hosting the upcoming Super Bowl was 128 decibels—that’s enough to permanently damage your hearing.

So is Guinness legally responsible for inciting the loud behavior by offering the Guinness World Record for loudest stadium? Or are stadium owners responsible for promoting the effort?

And who should be filing law suits? How about the players’ union? For players—the focus of that noise–hearing loss from stadium noise–is a genuine, recognized occupational hazard, though one that OSHA may not be attending to yet. Or should fans–including children–seek compensation for being unwittingly exposed to destructive noise without being informed or offered adequate ear protection?

We wonder how much longer this pointless and destructive Guinness record will continue to be promoted. It needs to stop but probably won’t until somebody takes Guinness and local stadium owners to court. Noise exposure is a serious public health threat, and far too many Americans are completely unaware of it or are complacent.

I hope you’ll enjoy the SuperBowl this year—without threatening your hearing!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Is noise pollution harming your health?

Photo credit: wp paarz licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is noise pollution harming your health? That’s the question Prof. Richard Neitzel, PhD, asks in this article for the BottomLineInc. Prof. Neitzel is associate chair and associate professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Noise pollution is similar to air pollution, except that both the public and health professionals are generally unaware of the non-auditory health effects of noise. These include cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and increased mortality.

And of course, noise can cause hearing loss. Prof. Neitzel’s research has shown that everyday noise exposure is great enough to cause hearing loss.

Personal hearing protection, i.e., earplugs, can help prevent hearing loss, but making the environment quieter will require government action.

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.

Hearing loss in older age isn’t inevitable

Photo credit: Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of David Owen’s book “Volume Control” from Canada’s National Post discusses the fact that hearing loss is not part of normal aging. Rather, most of it is the result of exposure to too much noise.

I agree with Mr. Owen, and with the reviewer.

My analysis of the medical and scientific literature, presented at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Effects of Noise, concluded that good hearing should last into old age. Unfortunately, modern life has become too noisy, with most Americans getting too much noise exposure in daily life.

Sadly, with noise exposure continuing unabated, I predict–and have predicted before–that hearing loss will become common in mid-life, not in old age, when today’s young people show the effects of hours of listening to personal music players at high volume.

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 a drug that repairs DNA prevent noise-induced hearing loss?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This press release from Northern Arizona University discusses a professor’s research on a new drug to see if it can prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Noise causes the production of reactive oxygen species in the cochlea, damaging delicate hair cells. The new drug, derived from a plant found in the Amazon, helps repair DNA and that might help prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

I’m always puzzled, though, that in the U.S. we try to find “a pill for every ill,” rather than focusing on preventing disease.

People want a pill to help them lose weight, rather than eating right and exercising.

They want creams to reduce wrinkles and age spots, rather than avoiding the sun.

And they want a pill to prevent hearing loss.

The professor doing the research, O’neil Guthrie, states “[e]ven after more than 100 years of research on hearing loss, there is still no widely accepted biomedical treatment or prevention.” I would have to disagree with him. I’m not sure what he means by a “biomedical treatment or prevention,” but avoiding loud noise, or using hearing protection, certainly prevents noise-induced hearing loss. And that’s what I recommend.

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.

“Volume Control,” David Owen’s superb new book

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

David Owen is a wonderful essayist who writes for The New Yorker, so we at The Quiet Coalition were thrilled with his recent piece, “Is Noise Pollution The Next Big Public Health Crisis?” When he interviewed me, he mentioned that he had a book coming out soon on noise and health. It was released on October 29. Called “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World,” Owen leads readers on an odyssey exploring the world of hearing loss in America.

If you are concerned that noise pollution really is the next big public health crisis–the new secondhand smoke–get a copy of this book and read it.

My hope is that Owen’s book will crack open wider public interest in this subject, one that already affects 48 million Americans. If you haven’t already seen Owen’s video on the subject which followed his New Yorker essay, watch it now.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.