Noise and children

The loudest toys to avoid this holiday season

Photo credit: dolanh licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Every year for the last several years one publication or another, or these days one web site or another, has published a list of too-noisy toys that might harm a child’s hearing. This report from AZ BigMedia lists toys found to be too loud by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ADCHH). The loudest toys made noise of 85 decibels (dB) or louder. The report quotes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association as stating that 85 dB is the maximum volume a child should be exposed to for no more than eight hours a day.

The list of toys is a good one, but the advice about safe noise levels for children is not. As best as I can tell, there are no evidence-based safe noise exposure levels for children. No researcher has ever exposed children to loud noise and measured what happens to their hearing. That study just wouldn’t be ethical.

85 dB is derived from the 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels) recommended occupational noise exposure level, first calculated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 1972 and revised in 1998. At 85 dBA, 8% of exposed workers will develop noise-induced hearing loss. An industrial-strength noise exposure level that doesn’t even protect all workers from hearing loss is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which must last her an entire lifetime.

I wrote about safe noise exposure levels for the public in the American Journal of Public Health and the difference between an occupational exposure level and one for the public was discussed in a NIOSH Science Blog post.

The best advice for parents and grandparents when selecting toys for their little darlings? If a toy sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect their hearing and don’t buy it for them this holiday season.

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.

The effect of noise and comforting sound on humans

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

I am a regular reader of the New York Times Tuesday Science section and was delighted to see two references to sound in the In Brief Section by Nicholas Bakalar on November 3rd (print version). In his brief titled “Noise May Raise Dementia Risk” Bakalar cites a study linking noise to increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. The authors, conducting a study on aging, looked at residents living in communities, both quiet and noisy, and found that community noise level resulted in a higher likelihood of cognitive impairment, as well as a risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The lead author, Jennifer Weuve, could only hypothesize about the connection but she suggested that excessive noise can result in sleep deprivation, hearing loss and changes in blood pressure—“all of which are associated with an increased risk for dementia.”

With so many people living longer lives today, this study suggests further research into the potential impact of long-term noise on one’s mental health. However, as stated numerous times before, there is enough evidence on the hazards of noise to our mental and physical health to warrant lessening noise pollution NOW.

The second brief is titled “Children: Not Picky About Lullabies” and cites a study led by Bainbridge and Bertolo in which the researchers found that lullabies, sung in many different languages and from different cultures, relaxed young infants. That infants can be calmed by songs from different languages, different cultures and different voices may also indicate that humans at the start do not center on differences amongst groups but upon similarities, namely the comforting sounds emanating from their voices.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

The importance of clean, safe, and quiet public schools

Photo credit: Jeffrey Zeldman licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Teach for America is an organization that attempts to address the inequities in our educational system by providing a select group of outstanding scholars the opportunity to teach for at least two years in a low income school. TFA believes that teaching in these low-income schools will instill a lifetime commitment in these scholars to advocate for an excellent education for all children regardless of economic status.

Familiar with TFA’s goals, I was delighted to be asked by Holly Lebowitz Rossi, a freelance writer, to assist her with an article she was writing for the organization that focused on the importance of the soundness of school facilities, especially in low-income communities, on the education that took place within them. She knew that one of the problems in our school buildings is that too many of them lack the quiet that is most conducive to learning. Loud sounds may exist within the school buildings themselves because of faulty construction or may come from outside sources, especially when windows are opened, e.g. nearby traffic, construction, etc. She was familiar with my research and writings on the impact of noise on classroom learning and that is why she asked for my input.

Rossi’s article quotes Janelle Dempsey, a civil rights attorney, who says that by having young people go to rundown facilities “sends a message to kids that we don’t value their education, we don’t value them.” My research on noise and classroom education was conducted over forty years ago and it pains me that we are still faced with public school buildings that impede school learning. I applaud Rossi and Dempsey for highlighting the need to provide learning spaces that facilitate rather than hinder our children’s education.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Headphone use causes hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the Sydney Morning Herald discusses headphone use causing hearing loss. It uses a term I hadn’t heard before–“headphone culture”–to describe the ubiquitous use of personal audio systems to provide a continuous soundtrack for daily life. There is mounting evidence that noise exposure in everyday life is loud enough to cause hearing loss in a majority of urban dwellers, and that exposure is exacerbated by using headphones or earbuds to listen to music or podcasts for hours a day.

The only quibble I have with the article is that it cites the occupational noise exposure levels of 80 or 85 decibels as being the safe sound threshold. This just isn’t true. Noise exposure levels that don’t even protect all exposed workers from noise-induced hearing loss certainly aren’t safe for the public!

The problem with listening to a personal audio device using headphones or earbuds is that to overcome ambient noise so one can hear what one is listening to, as when walking down the street or riding a bus or subway to work, the volume has to be turned up to dangerously loud levels.

For parents, the problem with children using headphones so they can listen to music or watch a video without disturbing others is that the parents can’t monitor the sound level or what their children are listening to.

The article discusses safer headphones with a volume limit, but my conclusion is that listening to music or podcasts or audiobooks using headphones or earbuds is as bad for the ears as smoking is for the lungs and heart.

Most volume limiting headphones use the occupational 85 decibel recommended exposure level as the volume limit and that simply won’t prevent hearing loss.

There is no safe cigarette, and headphones or earbuds with a volume limit may be safer than those without a volume limit, but they are certainly not safe.

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.

 

On hidden hearing loss

Photo credit: mentatdgt from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Alexia Hendrickson on About Manchester, a UK site, is a good primer on hidden hearing loss.

Hidden hearing loss got its name because people often complain of being unable to understand speech in noisy environments, but their hearing tests are normal. The auditory damage is “hidden,” because it is detected only by specialized research techniques.

Of note is the discussion about mild hearing loss in children being sufficient to interfere with learning. Hendrickson mentions some helpful tips, but to me the most important thing tip was missing. Namely, the best option is to prevent hearing loss of any kind–hidden or not–by avoiding exposure to loud sounds.

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.

The truth about children’s headphones

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this piece for The New York Times parenting column, Joyce Cohen tells the truth about children’s headphones. The 85 decibel standard is not a safe listening volume for children, especially not without a specified exposure time.

In her article, Cohen cited The Quiet Coalition’s Rick Neitzel, PhD, associate chair of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, who said that “[t]reating 85 decibels as a safe level makes no sense at all,” adding that “[t]he 85-decibel number has achieved mythical status not because it is safe but because it is one of the few ways that occupational noise is regulated.”

I would add that a noise exposure standard that doesn’t even protect factory workers or heavy equipment operators from hearing loss is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which have to last her a whole lifetime. And an unknown factor is individual susceptibility. It’s impossible to predict whose ears are tough and whose ears are tender.

“The same noise dose has no apparent impact on some and a life-altering impact on others,” Bryan Pollard, president of the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research, told Cohen.

Consequences include not just hearing loss, but tinnitus, hyperacusis, and a sense of aural fullness. In her piece, Cohen interviewed pediatric audiologist Brian Fligor Ph.D. who summed things up: “We have done an atrocious job of teaching people to value their hearing.”

I hope Ms. Cohen’s writing will help parents know how dangerous headphones are for their children.

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.

Kids learn about noise and classroom learning from the experts

Photo credit: K.W. Barrett licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition 

Noises from overhead aircraft, as well as nearby roads and rail tracks, impede learning in classrooms. Since I was the author of two of the early studies investigating the effects of outside noises on classroom learning, a group of students in Sharon, Massachusetts asked me to assist them with their research project which involved taking sound level measurements on the streets near three schools in Boston. They wanted to “see how much noise kids are actually exposed to when inside schools.” Dr. Erica Walker, Boston University School of Public Health, and Herb Singleton, Cross-Spectrum Acoustics, Inc. were their primary advisors.

In addition to reporting on the sound levels near the schools, the student team surveyed a group of elementary and middle school students to learn how aware they were of noises in their schools. After concluding that ”noise pollution impairs learning in children and affects schools in city neighborhoods,” the student team then made some recommendations to lessen noise in schools.

While the research conducted by these students supported earlier findings and recommendations to lessen noise in schools, this project is worth noting because these young students became aware of noise impacts on their own classroom learning and then decided to explore further how they could help reduce noise pollution in their town’s schools. Hopefully, these students will continue their interest in the harmful effects of noise and will join efforts to reduce noise in our overall environment. Their conclusion–“But the best solution is…Being Noise Aware”–makes me think they will.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

 

Noise in classrooms interferes with learning

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

After reading Dr. Paul W, Bennett’s article entitled “Are noisy Canadian classrooms hindering students,” I contacted him at the Schoolhouse Institute in Halifax, Canada. I indicated to him how surprised I was to read his article that “excessive classroom noise and disruptions remain largely undiagnosed and understudied in Canadian kindergarten-to-grade-12 education,” in light of the fact that I had conducted research and written extensively on the impacts of noise in classrooms for over forty years. I also added that were other studies similarly highlighting the need for quiet in classrooms.

We discussed his article in which he cited a global student survey conducted in 2018 that found that nearly 40% of Canadian students reported…”noise or disorder in most or all of their classes.“ Dr. Bennett said that this number was far more that that reported by Japanese and Korean students where the figures were low (under 10%). The figure for the U.S. was around 28%. While my writings primarily examined the impacts of noise from external and internal sources–namely, rail, airport, and poor acoustics in schools–Dr. Bennett also wrote about the disciplinary climate of the class contributing to “loudness” in classrooms. He also added that a deteriorating classroom environment can contribute to student bullying, absenteeism, and psychological harassment.

As a former professor of education, author of books on education, and director of an institute interested in improving the quality of education, Dr. Bennett thought it was important that Canadian educators become more aware of the effects of noise classroom disorder on student learning. Dr. Bennett was familiar with my research on the impacts of noise on classroom learning and I offered my assistance as he moves forward with his goal of stressing the importance of a quieter and more orderly school environment.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

 

Are there headphones for children that won’t hurt their ears?

Photo credit: jonas mohamadi from Pexels 

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This blog post from Stock Daily Dish posts a 2017 review of “the best headphones for kids that won’t hurt their ears.” This a big lie. Why not pair the headphones with the best cigarettes for kids that won’t give them lung cancer?

Because just as there really isn’t a Santa Claus, there are no cigarettes that won’t give kids lung cancer, and there are no headphones for children that won’t hurt their ears.

Headphones using the 85 decibel (dB) volume limit are not safe for children’s hearing. The 85 dB volume limit is derived from the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Level for occupational noise. That level doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss. And it’s not scientifically valid to extrapolate from studies of hearing loss in adult male workers to toddlers as young as three. As pediatricians often remind their internal medicine colleagues, a child is not a small adult.

A Dutch study showed auditory damage in children age 9-11 who used headphones. And at that age, they couldn’t have been using the headphones for very long!

Parents and grandparents should be talking with children, playing games with them, reading them books, telling them stories, not parking the kids in front of a video player with headphones so the children don’t bother them!

And if they buy headphones for their little darlings at this time of year, they should at least be aware that they may be condemning them to needing 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.

Don’t let unsafe use of tech and toys ruin your children’s hearing

Photo credit: Dark Dwarf licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Don’t let unsafe use of tech and toys ruin your children’s hearing. That’s the message the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is sending to parents this holiday season. This article from a New Jersey radio station features ASHA’s associate director, audiologist Paul Farrell, who warns that loud noise from toys and headphones can cause hearing loss, which in turn affects academic, social, and economic success for the rest of the child’s life.

That’s why protecting a child’s hearing is so important.

Parents and grandparents should heed Mr. Farrell’s warning. After all, a child’s ears have to last her or him an entire lifetime.

And I’ll add a warning to the advice Farrell gives: Headphones advertised as “safe for hearing” using 85 decibels as a volume limit are not safe for hearing. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA)* to prevent hearing loss.

The 85 dBA standard is derived from occupational hearing regulations and doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss. It’s not meant as an exposure level for the general public, much less children.

I think you will agree that a noise exposure standard that won’t protect factory workers or heavy equipment operators is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears. So this holiday season, avoid tech and toys that play loud sound and give your kids the gift of continued good hearing.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech. A-weighted decibel readings are approximately 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted measurements.

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.