Hearing protection

Is your spin class destroying your hearing?

Photo credit: www.localfitness.com.au licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This could be my shortest blog post ever: In a word, “yes.”

Seriously, the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for the entire day. This is not new information. The 70 decibels safe noise level was calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1974. The World Health Organization reached the same conclusion in 1999, as did the National Institutes of Health in 1990. (The NIH states that the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 75 decibels average for 8 hours, which is the same mathematically as 70 decibels for the day.) And more recently, my analysis of the safe noise level passed editorial muster at two of the worlds leading medical journals, the American Journal of Public Health in 2017 and the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018.

There can be no rational doubt about this number.

Most people think that louder music improves athletic performance, but there is no scientific evidence for this. I have communicated with two of the world’s experts on the effects of music on athletic performance. who both informed me that music may help improve performance in rhythmic activities, e.g., running at a steady pace, but there is no research showing that louder is better.

Those who go to noisy gyms and noisy spin classes have a choice: wear earplugs now, or wear hearing aids later.

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.

Going to a music festival this summer?

Make sure you go prepared with first-rate hearing protection. Cory Rosenberg, Mother Nature Network, writes about the growing popularity of music festivals and the potential harm they may cause.  Says Rosenberg, “live concerts have played a large part in the rise of noise-induced hearing loss over the past few decades for music fans and musicians alike.”

Rosenberg’s piece is pretty thorough, but he makes one glaring error when he says “[c]onsistent exposure to noise levels that reach 85 decibels A-weighted (dBA) is considered harmful.” As Dr. Daniel Fink has noted repeatedly, 85 dBA is an occupational noise exposure limit that was not intended, and is not appropriate, for the general public.

That proviso aside, if you are planing on going to a music festival this summer, you should give Rosenberg’s piece a read.

Can preventing hearing loss now prevent dementia later?

Photo credit: Monica McGivern licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We have written about this report before but important news bears repeating: A study using functional MRI techniques found that relatively young people with very mild hearing loss were using parts of their brain not normally used to try to understand speech. The researchers think that this added stress on the brain now may lead to an increased rate of dementia later.

The relationship between hearing loss and dementia is being studied in many ways. It has long been known that there was a correlation between hearing loss and dementia, with studies showing that people with worse hearing are more likely to develop dementia.

And one large study is trying to see if giving hearing aids to older people with hearing loss prevents dementia.

But it’s a whole lot easier–both a whole lot better, and a whole lot cheaper–to just avoid hearing loss by avoiding loud noise now. Hearing loss, after all, is not an inevitable part of aging.

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.

How loud is too loud?

Photo credit: Your Best Digs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

How loud is too loud? Probably between 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and 75 dBA, the auditory injury threshold, not the occupational noise exposure limit of 85 decibels cited in this article.

We are glad to see any publication warning about the dangers of noise and advocating use of hearing protective devices, as earplugs and earmuff hearing protectors are more broadly known, but this piece just gets the basic science wrong.

As the NIOSH Science Blog discussed in 2016, an occupational noise exposure limit is not a safe noise level for the public.

Smart phone sound level meter apps provide good to very accurate sound level measurements, but you really don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud.

If it’s loud enough that you have to strain to speak or to be heard–a typical noise level when using power equipment or tools, hair dryers, kitchen mixers, or eating in many restaurants–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is being damaged.

And certainly if the sound level is loud enough to cause momentary pain or discomfort, or subsequent muffling or sound or ringing in the ears, you are on your way to hearing loss.

It’s easy to protect your hearing for your whole life. If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Avoid loud noise or use hearing protective devices, or need hearing aids. The choice is yours.

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.

Fireworks can cause hearing problems

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, the Quiet Coalition

This press release from Purdue University discusses the fact that noise from fireworks can cause hearing problems.

There are several errors in the press release. Namely, the 85 decibel noise level cited is an occupational noise exposure standard that isn’t safe for the public nor is it meant to be a standard for the general public. But the main thrust of the piece is a good, general warning that loud noise is bad for the ears.

And the advice offered by Anne Sommer, an audiology clinical instructor at Purdue, that double hearing protection–foam ear plugs and ear muffs–should be used when setting off personal fireworks is sound.

I would only add that if double protection is needed for an unnecessary task, the more prudent option is to avoid exposure. After all, one really shouldn’t set off personal fireworks unless one is willing to accept the loss of an eye or a finger. Fireworks, which are banned in Los Angeles, are inherently dangerous and are really best left to the pros.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Indoor cycling classes are bad for your ears

Photo credit: jalexartis licensed under CC by 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Vox documents that sound levels in many indoor spinning or cycling classes exceed safe limits to prevent hearing loss. This is an occupational safety and health issues for the instructors, who have many more hours of exposure than those who exercise, but the background music is loud enough to endanger the hearing of those just exercising for an hour or two each week.

One wonders why the state and federal occupational safety and health inspectors haven’t taken action. Maybe this report will spur an inquiry.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Preventing hearing loss in music students

Photo credit: Matt Jolly licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Many occupations have workplace hazards associated with the work performed, and different specialties have developed to deal with these hazards, occupational medicine, industrial hygiene, and workers compensation law among them.

Hearing loss is the most common occupational injury. One usually thinks of hearing loss as a problem for factory workers, or construction workers, or airport workers, but it’s also a problem for musicians and music students. This article reports on what audiologists at Duke University are doing to help curb hearing loss in music students.

Sounds like a good idea to us!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Disturb everyone else with your noise, but protect yourself

Oh the irony.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, the Quiet Coalition

This report at Motorcycle.com lists earplugs good for motorcycle riders.

The idea of protecting your own hearing, while bothering and deafening others with your motorcycle’s noise, is ironic.

Riding a motorcycle is a dangerous pastime, and many riders believe that a louder motorcycle is a safer one because drivers of other vehicles can hear them. Most experts, however, think that’s really not true and posit that many riders just like to make as much noise as possible to show how profoundly anti-social they are.

What they–and most police departments–don’t know is that there are state and federal laws regulating motorcycle exhaust noise, and the best way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss is to reduce the noise level at its source.

So rather than offering advice on protecting hearing to those who would impose their noise on the rest of us, Motorcycle.com, why not tell your readers to respect others by removing the illegal straight-pipe exhaust systems they put on their bikes?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

A healthy diet might protect against hearing loss, but noise is still the problem

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This study shows that a healthy diet can help women protect their hearing.

It has long been known that high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking were associated with hearing loss, probably because they cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and anything that affects blood flow to the inner ear (cochlea) might cause damage, or make the cochlea less able to recover from noise damage. A healthy diet can reduce or prevent atherosclerosis. So that is probably the explanation for this finding, done using nurses as subjects.

So would I suggest that women adopt a healthy diet to protect their hearing? Of course! But whether a woman (or a man) eats a healthy diet or not, avoiding noise exposure will definitely prevent hearing loss.

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 serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.