Noise and children

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.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft on the Soundproofist podcast

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, has been interviewed for the Soundproofist site, a site that provides interviews with individuals speaking about the welcoming sounds in our environment as well as the dangers of noise.

In this interview Dr. Bronzaft notes that the literature supporting the link between adverse impacts of noise on health and well-being has not resulted in legislation adequate to protect people from the dangers of noise. Her grandson, Matt Santoro, discusses how aircraft noise affects him at his home in Queens, New York, and how aircraft noise intruded  his classroom when he was in middle school.

For those like me, who prefer to get their information by reading rather than by listening to a podcast, a transcript of that podcast is also available at that site.

In either format, it’s worth spending the time to learn what Arline has to say about the dangers of noise.

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.

Will our children suffer from hearing loss?

Photo credit: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez  has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Will America’s children suffer from hearing loss in the future like Flint, Michigan’s children are now suffering from neurological damage from lead poisoning? This recent report in The New York Times describes the long-term effects of lead poisoning on children in the Flint schools, and the great costs in trying to deal with these problems now.

The dangers to children’s hearing are well known. These include headphone use, noisy athletic events, noisy parties with amplified music at high volumes, band and musical instrument practices, and the much-too-loud soundtracks for action movies aimed at children.

It’s also well known that when children can’t hear, they have trouble learning. This evidence underlies the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for pediatric hearing screening.

But will those charged with protecting America’s children–the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices among them–do more to prevent America’s children from suffering hearing loss? And when will they do it?

Because prevention of a medical problem is almost always better, cheaper, and more efficient than treating the problem after it has developed.

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.

Are we deafening our children?

Photo credit: M Pincus licesned under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of headphones designed for toddlers and children states that the headphones have “a toddler-safe 75 decibel maximum, a hearing-health friendly 85 decibel maximum, and a louder 94 decibel maximum in-flight mode.” The reviewer goes on to state, “[w]e highly recommend that parents set the volume no louder than the 85 decibel mode for optimal hearing safety.” These statements document a complete misunderstanding of the dangers of loud noise for hearing and of children’s health. These headphones may be safer for children’s hearing than headphones without volume limits, which can put out 100-110 decibels (dB), but they are certainly not safe for children’s hearing.

To my knowledge, there are no studies of noise exposure and hearing loss in children. But children are not small adults, and noise exposure standards derived from studies on adults cannot be applied to them.

The 85 dB standard for safe listening is derived from the 85 A-weighted (dbA)* recommended exposure level for occupational noise. It is not a safe noise exposure for the public. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure limit to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for a day, and even that is probably too much noise exposure to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Let me state my thoughts as clearly as I can: A-weighted decibels typically measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted decibels. The 85 dBA noise exposure standard does not protect all exposed workers from occupational hearing loss over a 40-year work career, even with provision of hearing protection devices, strict monitoring, time limits for exposure, and regular audiograms, backed up by OSHA inspections and workers compensation law. Noise loud enough to deafen factory workers or heavy equipment operators over a 40-year career just isn’t safe for a little toddler’s delicate ears, which must last a whole lifetime, into her or his 80s or 90s.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour exposure to 85 dBA noise because one hour at 85 dBA averages out to 70 dB for the day, even if there is zero noise for the other 23 hours, which is impossible.

In 2018, I was able to get the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority to take action agains Amazon because it was falsely advertising that headphones using the 85 dB volume limit were safe for children’s hearing. The Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices has declined to take enforcement action here, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission declined a request to require warning labels about possible auditory damage on headphones and personal music players. And the American Association of Pediatrics has also declined to issue advice for parents about noise exposure as strong as its recommendations against sun exposure.

Am I falsely alarmed? I don’t think so. A Dutch study in 2018 showed that children age 9-11 who used headphones already had signs of auditory damage, compared to those who didn’t.

Besides, children should be talking with other children, or with parents, grandparents, and others, not listening to music or the soundtracks of their screen devices. A recent study showed that screen time is correlated with brain changes in the tracts involving speech.

My advice to parents: no headphones and limit screen time. Protect your children’s ears and talk to them about why.

*A-weighting adjusts noise 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 comic book about noise? Yes!

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Our contacts at the National Center for Environmental Health have let us know that their new educational comic book, “How Loud Is Too Loud?,” is now available online.

We are assisting in the dissemination of this valuable information, so that teachers, parents, grandparents, and friends of children of comic book reading age can help children learn about the dangers of noise.

Thanks to the folks at CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health for everything they are doing to help educate the public about the dangers of noise for 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.

Will personal music players be the next public health disaster for young people?

Photo credit: Elena Buzmakova(borisova) from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitio

This article in The New York Times details ten years of regulatory dithering while millions of young people became addicted to nicotine through vaping. The health dangers of vaping were clear to many, but political considerations, lawsuits, and perhaps an early lack of clear evidence of harm led to inaction. And now young people, and a few older ones, are being sickened with several dying.

I see a similar situation developing with the widespread use of personal music players by young people.

The Sony Walkman was marketed in 1979, the iPod in 2001, and the now ubiquitous iPhones in 2007 and Androids in 2008. A large number of Americans use personal music players, and surveys find that users listen for several hours a day.  This report citing Nielsen figures says that Americans listen to music 32 hours a week!  That’s 4.5 hours every day. The World Health Organization recommends listening to no more than one hour daily, to prevent hearing loss. Other studies show that some users typically listen to music at high volumes, loud enough to drown out ambient noise.

There has been some media coverage about prolonged exposure to personal music players, but most people don’t seem to be aware of the problem.

I have communicated with the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what I see as a future epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss when today’s young people reach mid-life, after 30-40 years of excessive noise exposure. The CDC has begun a research program into noise and the public and undertaken educational efforts about the dangers of noise on hearing, but as with vaping devices, it’s clear to me that regulatory action is needed and that’s not something CDC does. Education can help change health behaviors, but regulation is much more effective.

Will there be media reports in 2030 or 2040 about the lost opportunity to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.

Unfortunately, then it will be too late to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss. The time for action is now.

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.

Refuge from noise for autistic kids and adults

Photo credit: John Marino has dedicated this photo to the public domain

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

America is awakening to the special needs of kids and adults on the autism spectrum. Many are hyper-reactive to environmental noise.

A few shopping centers have introduced “quiet hours” specifically aimed at families with autistic children. Now a few airports are getting the message too.

For example, Lonely Planet reports that Pittsburgh International Airport has opened a 500 square foot “sensory room” called Presley’s Place where traveling families with autistic members can calm down and get ready to fly or de-compress after landing.

For some of us, finding a quiet place is a quest, something we simply enjoy. But for others, it’s an essential need! Let’s hope other airports get the message soon.

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.

NPR covers hand dryer noise

Phot credit: Peter Baron licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have already written about the wonderful report by a young scientist, Nora Keegan, on the dangers of electric hand dryers, but NPR also covered the story so we’re sharing that with our readers, too.

As Nora realized at age 9, if something sounds too loud, it is too loud. And what followed was her study, over a couple of years, on just how loud and dangerous restroom hand dryers are. What she discovered is that “Xlerator hand dryers and two types of Dyson Airblade hand dryers posed the greatest threats to children’s hearing” because they “exceed[ed] 100 decibels — a volume that can lead to “learning disabilities, attention difficulties, and ruptured ear drums.”

Kudos to Nora for her dedicated study, and to NPR for bringing her story to its listeners.

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.

Philadelphia deploys sonic weapons to harass loitering teenagers

“The Mosquito” | Photo credit: Sunmist dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

According to this report on NPR, the city of Philadelphia is one of several cities that have been deploying “sonic weapons” in public parks to deter loitering by teenagers, who, because they’re young enough to have unimpaired hearing, are keenly sensitive to the high-frequency noise emitted by the devices.

The devices were developed by a Vancouver BC-based company called Moving Sound Technologies. The company’s president is quoted in the piece describing the product, which he calls “the Mosquito.” Also quoted are young people who say the noise is loud, and, in one instance, causes headaches.

There are quite a number of sonic weapons available on the market, often developed for military use, but now in the hands of police forces too. The 40-year-long refusal in the U.S. to understand that noise can—like second-hand smoke–be harmful to health has led many to assume that sonic weapons are harmless and merely annoying. That’s fundamentally wrong. In the meantime, city councils and neighborhood associations need to be vigilant about local police forces adopting such crowd-control methods that could be harmful to public health and just bad policy.  As Philadelphia councilwoman Helen Gym notes, “[i]n a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people, how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars that turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?”

We live in a noisy world—an unnecessarily noisy world—for the simple reason that most people, including our local and national leaders, have no idea that noise really is “the new second-hand smoke.” Until we get them to understand that the public is being harmed by environmental noise, we need to look after ourselves and our neighbors.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-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.