Hearing protection

Can Acoustic metamaterials rescue your hearing?

Photo credit: Office of Naval Research licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Boston University’s work on acoustic metamaterials is quite interesting, but it’s a long way from being available in stores if you’re concerned about hearing loss, as you should be.

Acoustic metamaterials are an exciting if little-known area of research and development that hold promise for much better, i.e., lighter, less bulky, ways to stop noise from destroying your hearing or disrupting your sleep or concentration.

The article caught my attention because I used to teach at BU, though I don’t know this research team. And I’ve also done some grant-funded work on other acoustic metamaterials in the research lab I co-founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So I am very interested in this subject.

But I mainly want to say this: The most important work on noise control right now is going on at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where leadership recognized two years ago that noise is, indeed, a serious public health hazard. That’s huge—because it brings noise out of the dark shadow it’s been hidden under at Environmental Protection Agency since 1981. The CDC’s recognition is what has triggered interest in research on a variety of solutions., and its interest should trigger funding for:

  1. Widespread work on reducing noise at the source (such as noise from airports, highways, railways, construction and \ maintenance equipment, household appliances, headphones, etc.), and
  2. Reducing noise at the receiver (such as noise-cancellation headphones or more effective, lighter, or less bulky ways to block sound from destroying your hearing).

We’ve already seen two pieces of national bi-partisan legislation pass without a fight: the 2017 bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act, and the 2018 FAA Re-Authorization Act. And at the local level, a number of cities and towns have taken up the battle: Washington DC, New York City, Southampton, New York, S. Pasadena, and others.

In fact, it feels like the tide has turned on this issue after a 38-year hiatus and hearing loss is now beginning to be recognized as a serious public health hazard. But don’t wait for this BU group to commercialize their work on acoustic metamaterials because that could be decades away. Go and buy a good pair of ear plugs or a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones AND a good pair of over-the-ear “ear muffs” (they can be found at hunting or hardware stores). Then train your family members, even the youngest children, that hearing is precious and must be protected.

Sound is like the air you breathe: omnipresent, invisible, necessary, but also potentially hazardous. Nobody will protect you if you don’t protect yourself.

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.

Apple watch to add noise monitoring

Photo credit: Forth With Life licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair, The Quiet Coaltion

Apple has announced that it is adding a noise monitoring feature to the Apple watch. The new feature should be available in late 2019. Users will be able to set their own sound warning level (according to this French-language link), but the example used in the linked Mic article cites 90 decibels (dB) as the warning level.

That’s too loud.

The World Health Organization recommends a daily average noise exposure of only 70 decibels to prevent hearing loss. After only 30 minutes at 90 dB, one has reached that daily noise dose even if the other 23 1/2 hours have zero noise, which is impossible.

Most people don’t know that the auditory injury threshold, the threshold at which auditory damage begins, is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels* (dBA) for 8 hours, which mathematically is the same as 70 dB time-weighted average for 24 hours, or 85 dBA for only 1 hour. There is some evidence that auditory damage may begin at sounds as low as 55 dBA for 8 hours. The only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for 24 hours.

If you have an Apple watch and want to use the noise monitoring feature, we suggest setting the alarm level at 80 or at most 85 decibels.

But you don’t need an Apple watch or a sound level meter app on your smart phone to know if you’re being exposed to too much noise. If you have to strain to speak or be heard in a normal conversation at the usual 3-4 foot social distance, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

Protect your ears now, or need hearing aids later.

*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.

Want a quieter town? Urge local government to “Buy Quiet”

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

These two 5-minute videos from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spell out how business owners can reduce noise-induced hearing loss by creating “Buy Quiet” programs as a first step when purchasing or renting machinery or tools.  The Buy Quiet program “encourages companies to purchase or rent quieter machinery and tools to reduce worker noise exposure” when they first start up or when older machinery and tools are replaced. You can make your town or neighborhood quieter by getting your local government to encourage it’s own departments–as well as area businesses–to Buy Quiet.

Buy Quiet programs originated at NASA, where they were concerned about astronauts who, it turns out, were exposed to excessive and dangerous noise level when they were floating around in space.

But Buy Quiet gradually expanded to other federal agencies, for instance the National Park Service, eventually reaching the CDC, which realized that exposing the public to excessive noise levels from construction, traffic, airports, etc. was actually a dangerous public health problem. At that point, the CDC and other federal agencies began publishing the kind of public education materials linked above and much more.

It’s time for all of us to take the noise problem seriously. Remember, as our chairman Dr. Fink says, “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!”

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.

London subway noise is excessive

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the London Post reports that loud noise on 37 London Underground routes exceeds 85 dB. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure to prevent hearing loss. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive recommends posting of warning signs if the noise exceeds 85 decibels. Despite this, Transport for London, the agency that operates London’s subway lines, states that it believes “Health and Safety Executive guidance suggests Tube noise is highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

They’re wrong. If one’s commute is 30 minutes or greater each way, the total daily exposure from subway noise alone exceeds the WHO’s safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. And, of course, the Londoner is undoubtedly exposed to other noise sources, such as loud music in restaurants and shops.

When I visit London, I wear earplugs when taking the Tube. You should, too.

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.

Is a personal noise alert system needed?

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Silencity received a comment to my recent blog post about hearing protection asking if a noise alert system could be developed to let people know when they were encountering dangerous noise levels.

There are wall-mounted devices available, but I don’t know of any personal noise warning device, either for occupational use or for the public. Such a device or smartphone app would be nice but I don’t think it’s needed. Why?

For some time I have been ending posts with the line, “If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.” And that advice is why one doesn’t need a noise alert system. If you think a noise is too loud, you’re probably right.

For sure, if a noise hurts your ears, even if it doesn’t bother someone else, it’s too loud for you.  There are clearly variations in sensitivity to noise, but you need to protect your hearing, not someone else’s.

And if a noise exposure causes temporary ringing in the ears or muffling of hearing, that’s a definite sign that the noise was too loud.

For noise levels that aren’t quite that high, a simple and easy rule of thumb is that if you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 70-75 A-weighted decibels.

And that’s why you don’t need a noise warning device. Depending on your belief system, God, Mother Nature, or Darwinian evolution already gave you one!

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.

Restaurant servers and bartenders warned about noise

Photo credit: Daria Sannikova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Tricity News reports that the Canadian provincial equivalent of a state occupational safety and health organization in the U.S., WorkSafe BC, just issued a warning on noise to restaurant servers and bartenders. Specifically, WorkSafe BC warned that “[h]earing loss in the workplace can be just as damaging in the service industry as it is in heavy industrial settings.”

Patrons are only in a restaurant or bar for an hour or two, but the workers may be there for an 8-hour shift, and often the noise exposure is loud enough for a long enough period to damage hearing. No surprise then that WorkSafe BC issued the warning. One wonders what it would take for OSHA–or a state or local government health agency–to act to protect the hearing of service industry workers.

Additional information is available on the WorkSafe BC website.

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 to protect your hearing

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This short piece in The Guardian gives sound advice on how to protect your hearing. The Guardian reporter interviewed audiologist Gemma Twitchen, from the UK advocacy group Action on Hearing Loss, about how people can avoid damaging their hearing while listening to loud music, going to the cinema, or taking public transportation, among other activities.

Twitchen says that “[m]any new devices display the safe sound level and warn if you go above that,” and encourages readers to keep an eye on the reading.  She adds that noise-canceling headphones allow users to listen to music at lower volumes. This is important, because as Twitchen notes, temporary auditor symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent auditory damage will probably occur with repeated exposure.

I would go a step further and say that there probably is no such thing as temporary auditory damage and any symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent damage has already occurred. But I agree entirely with the audiologist’s advice to wear hearing protection.

And as we have been saying for a while, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Protect your hearing today to preserve it for tomorrow.

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.

Two thumbs up for noise-canceling headphones

Photo credit: Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Geoffrey Morrision, writing for the New York Times, casts his vote in favor of using noise-canceling headphones when traveling, and I’ll add mine, too. The only downsides of noise-canceling headphones is that the over-ear ones are a little bulky, they are yet another thing to pack and carry, and it can be hard to find a comfortable head position with them on when trying to sleep. But in return, one has much greater quiet when flying.

Aircraft cabin noise is largely low-frequency noise, from engines and airframe, and most noise-canceling headphones do a good job of reducing low frequency noise.

I often use them on longer train rides, too, where again the predominant noises are low frequency ones.

The best noise-canceling headphones are expensive, of course, but if you are a frequent flyer, they are worth it.

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 you temporarily hear muffled sound after a loud noise

Photo credit: Katie Tegtmeyer licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise-induced temporary threshold shift, or NITTS, describes the temporary muffling of sound after a person is exposed to loud noise. This article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Eureka Alert details a report in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that provides an explanation for NITTS. Namely, researchers in Sweden found changes in calcium ions in the tectorial membrane of the cochlea.

While NITTS is a real and observable finding, the idea that auditory damage from noise is temporary is most likely false. Research by Liberman and Kujawa and colleagues at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary strongly suggests that there is no such thing as temporary auditory damage. And decades of occupational noise exposure studies show that NITTS eventually becomes NIPTS, noise-induced permanent threshold shift, i.e., noise-induced hearing loss. That is, your awareness of muffled hearing following exposure to loud noise is temporary, but the damage caused by the loud noise is permanent.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. Avoid noise exposure and if one can’t avoid noise exposure, use hearing protection devices.

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.

How to block noise and get good night’s sleep

Photo credit: Ivan Obolensky from Pexels

Until we can compel our government to properly regulate noise, a little self-help is the only way to get a good night’s rest. Sadly, not everyone is comfortable wearing ear plugs while they sleep.  For them, NoisyWorld has come up with a list of ear plug alternatives to help you get through the night.