Medical and scientific news

The use of sound in medicine

Photo credit: Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Sound has medical uses. Music therapy has been used for decades, as has diagnostic ultrasound, e.g., echocardiography, gallbladder, and kidney ultrasound, and therapeutic ultrasound has been used in physical therapy.

Now, this report from NPR discusses the use of focused sound waves to ablate damaged brain tissue, relieving a farmer of a trembling hand.

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.

Noise kills

Photo credit: Pete G licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Most people, including most doctors, don’t know that noise causes both hearing damage–hearing loss, tinnitus and hyperacusis–as well as a whole host of non-auditory health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and death.

These non-auditory health effects are discussed in this article that reviews the current literature.

The European Union understands the dangers that noise exposure poses, and it is taking steps to protect the public via the Environmental Noise Directive.

If enough Americans make sure their elected representatives know that they are worried about how noise affects us, maybe the U.S. will become quieter and healthier, 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.

Loud music listened to on headphones is causing hearing loss in children

Photo credit: Gordon licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My main noise issue is restaurant noise, but I have learned about other noise issues, too. When I figured out that the oft-cited 85 decibel standard is an occupational noise exposure standard, and not a safe noise exposure standard for the public, I sent emails and letters to the audiologists quoted in media reports. When I realized that 85 decibels was used as a safe volume limit for headphones marketed for toddlers as young as 3 years, I called this to the attention of pediatricians, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control. My efforts, sadly, have thus far been unsuccessful.

My worries were based on theoretical concerns. There was no way that loud noise without a time exposure limit could be safe for children. Now this report documents that the hearing loss I was worried about isn’t a theoretical concern any more. Namely, the news article writes about a study conducted by Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, in which scientists “studied more than 5,000 children aged nine to 11-years-old over three years, found one in seven of the youngsters had suffered some hearing loss.”

The study is preliminary. The hearing tests were done as part of a study of normal child development in Rotterdam, but not specifically to determine whether personal music player use caused hearing loss. More than 5,000 children were enrolled in the study, but complete hearing tests were available for only about 3,000, and personal music player use was assessed by parental report. Despite these limitations, the study found that 14% of the children, now just under 11 years old, had some type of hearing impairment.

That said, one must ask what is causing this early onset hearing loss. The researchers believe the cause may be children’s use of headphones to listen to portable music players.

Maybe this will spur regulatory authorities into action. At the very least, parents and grandparents can take these headphones away from their little darlings, and give them instead the gift of continued good hearing.

The problem with headphones isn’t just hearing loss. As a parent and soon to be grandparent, I know that talking with children and listening to what they say–almost from the time they are born–is one of the most important ways to teach them words and language, to establish a relationship with them, and to educate them about the world. Giving the child a personal music player or video player and headphones can occupy the child for hours–it’s certainly easier than carrying books and reading them to the child, or giving the child a paper and crayons, or playing with dolls or trucks or Legos–and it allows the parent to watch or listen to his or her own cellphone or personal electronic device, but it probably isn’t the best thing for the child, either.

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 board from 2015-2018.

 

Hearing loss in young people changes brain function

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Since I became a noise activist and started learning about the dangers of noise, I have been predicting an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in young people due to their ubiquitous use of personal music players with associated headphones or earbuds, often turned up loud enough to annoy me when they walk past. This article reports that young adults with subtle hearing loss also have brain function changes detected on functional MRI scans.

We don’t just hear sound with our ears. We have to process the information from the ear in the brain. According to this study, hearing loss makes the brain work harder.

There is a well-known association between hearing loss and dementia, with worse hearing being correlated with a greater risk of developing dementia. And it now looks like this problem starts in early adulthood, not late in life.

So unfortunately, I’m going to predict that there will not only be an epidemic of NIHL when today’s young people reach midlife–in their 40s and 50s, not in their 60s, 70s, and 80s–but there will also be an epidemic of early-onset dementia.

When will the public health authorities and regulators–the FDA, CDC, and Consumer Product Safety Commission–take necessary action to protect our young people?

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.

First potential biomarker for noise-induced hearing loss identified

The author, Julia R. Barrett, has dedicated this image to the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers at the University of Connecticut found increase levels of a protein called prestin in blood after exposure to loud noise. The prestin comes from the hair cells in the cochlea when they are damaged by noise. If this research holds up, it can help researchers study drugs that might prevent hearing loss from noise exposure.

Of course, one doesn’t need a new protein or a drug to prevent hearing loss from noise exposure.

Just avoid loud noise.

If the ambient noise level is high enough that you have to strain to speak or to be heard when having a normal conversation, the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels, and your hearing is being damaged.

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.

New study shows hope for hearing loss. Again.

Image credit: Chittka L. Brockmann licensed under CC BY 2.5

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report shows hope for hearing loss, describing a technique that may work to deliver drugs to inner ear structures deep within the skull, perhaps to treat hearing loss.

Whether these techniques will actually work, will be approved by the FDA, and will be affordable remains to be seen, probably years or even decades in the future.

In the meantime, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound–or several pounds–worth of cure.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Avoid loud noise and avoid hearing loss.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud. If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above the auditory injury threshold of 75 A-weighted decibels, and your hearing is being damaged.

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.

Can bananas protect against hearing loss?

Photo credit: Dom J from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Can bananas protect against hearing loss?

This report from Australia states that nutrients in bananas–zinc and potassium–can help protect hearing.

The potassium reportedly protects against hearing loss and the zinc against tinnitus.

That may be true and everyone should eat a healthy diet including at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, but I doubt that these two nutrients by themselves will prevent auditory damage from noise exposure.

And I’m always puzzled that researchers and the public look for various cures or treatments for auditory disorders- many of questionable scientific validity or still in a very preliminary stage of development- when there is one proven effective way to protect hearing:

Avoid loud noise, or wear hearing protection if you can’t escape the noise.

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.

 

Hearing loss is associated with accidental injury

Photo credit: slgckgc licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This paper in the March 22, 2018, issue of JAMA Otolaryngology reports that difficulty hearing is associated with an increased risk of accidental injury. The study is preliminary because it relies on subject self-report of hearing difficulty rather than measured hearing loss, but it makes sense. Sound provides much information–for communication, for entertainment, and for warning of hazards–and if you have difficulty hearing, you’ll become aware of problems (e.g., an approaching vehicle, a power tool that’s getting stuck, or even just a shouted warning) later than if you had good hearing.

Think about all the accidental injury that could be avoided if people made an effort to protect their hearing.  After all, most hearing loss in adults is noise-induced hearing loss which is 100% preventable.

Protect your hearing by avoiding loud noise or using hearing protection, and avoid accidental injury, too.

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.