Hearing protection

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.

Univ. of Texas band members now wear ear plugs

Photo credit: Klobetime licensed under CC By-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The Daily Texan reports that Longhorn Band members now wear earplugs.

Noise-induced hearing loss in musicians of all types is an occupational or recreational hazard, regardless of what instrument or type of music one plays. In fact, music students have been used as subjects in studies of the effect of noise exposure on hearing, compared to those studying other subjects.

My advice is simple: all musicians–in high school and college bands and at the professional level–should use hearing protection.

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.

David Owen’s new book on how noise is destroying our hearing

Photo by Laurie Gaboardi, courtesy of David Owen

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

NPR interviews New Yorker staff writer David Owen about his new book, “Volume Control.” Owen makes several salient points:

  • Hearing loss in old age is the result of cumulative noise exposure.
  • Hearing loss doesn’t just affect hearing, but affects general health and function. People with hearing loss have more frequent hospitalizations, more accidents, and die younger.
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus are the leading service-connected disabilities for military veterans.
  • There is no cure for tinnitus and hyperacusis can be an even worse problem, without treatment or cure.

My advice is that you must protect your hearing. Because if something sounds too loud, it is too loud.

We only have two ears. Wear earplugs now, or hearing aids later.

DISCLOSURE: I was interviewed by David Owen for his The New Yorker article, “Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public-Health Crisis?,” and I am acknowledged in his book.

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.

Controlling the roar of the crowd

Photo credit: Gloria Bell licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The New York Times describes efforts by the Philadelphia Eagles and other professional and college sports teams to accommodate those with sensory challenges, “who can be most acutely affected by the overwhelming environments.”

Noise levels in many arenas and stadiums are high enough to cause auditory damage. The world record stadium noise is 142.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA)*, which exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible occupational noise exposure level of 140 dBA.

We wish the sports teams and the arenas and stadiums in which they play would do more to protect the hearing of everyone attending the game.

And since they probably won’t do this–crowd noise is weaponized to favor the home team, especially in football where it interferes with the visiting team hearing the quarterback calling the play–the public health authorities should step in.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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 revised definition of noise for National Protect Your Hearing Month

Photo credit: Chris Fithall licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, and I am using the occasion to propose a revised definition of noise: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

For many decades, noise has been defined as “unwanted sound,” a phrase usually attributed to the late acoustics pioneer Leo Beranek. The problem with this definition is that it implies that the perception of noise is subjective. This means that those complaining about noise have no real basis for their complaints, other than a personal reaction to noise.

The new definition acknowledges that noise can be harmful to human health and can interfere with human activity. Even if a noise is merely unpleasant, that experience is stressful.  Recent research shows that stress causes vascular inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

The revised definition is supported by my article in the Fall 2019 issue of Acoustics Today, summarizing the evidence-based noise levels affecting human health and function. My article makes it clear that there can be no rational doubt that noise is harmful, and unwanted noise especially so. Sounds as quiet as 30-35 A-weighted decibels (dBA) can disrupt sleep. A good night’s sleep is important for health and function. Forty-five decibel (dB) sound can disrupt concentration and interfere with learning. At 55 dB, non-auditory health impacts of noise begin, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and increased mortality. These effects are best studied for transportation noise, but are seen with occupational noise exposure. At 60 dBA ambient noise, people with hearing loss have difficulty understanding speech. At 70 dBA, those with normal hearing also have difficulty understanding speech.

Seventy dB time-weighted average for 24 hours is the only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss, but the actual safe noise level is probably lower than that. And 85 dBA is the occupational recommended noise exposure level, not a safe noise level for the public. And as I notedin my article, the World Health Organization recommends only one hour exposure at 85 dBA daily to prevent hearing loss. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, this is mathematically the same as 70 dB time-weighted average for a day.

Hearing loss is very common in older people, but I’ve learned that this isn’t part of normal physiological aging. Rather, presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is largely noise-induced hearing loss.

So what can you do to protect your hearing? There are two ways to protect hearing: avoid loud noise, and if you can’t, use hearing protection devices.

We only have two ears, and unlike knees they can’t be replaced. So if a noise sounds too loud, it IS too loud. And if a noise is so loud that one can’t converse without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

And always remember that noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound

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 pioneer in protecting musicians and fans from hearing loss

Photo credit: Wendy Wei from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the San Francisco Examiner profiles Kathy Peck, who started advocating for hearing protection at rock concerts before anyone realized that rock concerts were loud enough to cause hearing loss. Peck’s efforts led to her starting the nonprofit Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers, or H.E.A.R., and eventually to the adoption of laws in San Francisco requiring concert venues with a dance floor and capacity for 500 or more to provide earplugs for patrons.

Kudos to Ms. Peck for protecting the hearing of musicians and San Franciscans. Similar laws protecting the public’s hearing should be passed in other cities, 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.

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.

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.

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.