Noise and children

The Children’s Case for a Cleaner (and Quieter) World

Photo credit: Robin Loznak, courtesy of Our Children’s Trust

By Rick Reibstein, Co-Founder, The Quiet Coalition

Visitors to this site, we may presume, are interested in the right to quiet enjoyment of where they live. But this right, as with all others, is or is not honored within a context of law, the purpose of which is seen differently by many people. Right now, the U.S. is in the grip of a philosophy of least government. The focus of the current administration is removing regulations, as if they are simply a set of constraints and costs. This is a tragically simplistic view to hold sway in a democratic republic. In these times, it is important for citizens to think more deeply about the purpose of government.

This piece that I wrote for the ABA Journal is about people who have done so. They are children, and they are acting on their beliefs. Their determination to seek what they see as justice in our court system, and the response thus far of one judge, holds important lessons for all of us.

Rick Reibstein is an environmental lawyer.  He teaches at Boston University and serves as co-chair of the Legal Advisory Council for Quiet Communities, Inc.

Cigarette use has dropped sharply among teens

Photo credit: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in the New York Times documents a sharp drop in smoking by teenagers.

Finally, decades of public health education about the dangers of smoking, restrictions on sales of cigarettes to minors, cigarette advertising, and no-smoking laws, appear to have worked.

Smoking is no longer cool. It doesn’t hurt that increased cigarette taxes have raised the average price of a pack of cigarettes above $6 in the U.S., and as much as $13 a pack in New York City, forcing most teens to choose between smoking and other things they’d rather do.

This report gives me hope that public health authorities can do something to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in teens by educating them about the dangers of noise for hearing; by requiring warning labels on personal music players, earbuds, and headphones; by restricting sales and use to older teens, perhaps above age 15; and perhaps by taxing these devices to fund a federal account to provide hearing aids to those damaged by personal music player use.

A recent editorial in the journal Pediatrics, titled “Adolescent Hearing Loss: Rising or Not, It Remains a Concern,” indicates that the problem is finally getting some attention in the pediatric community. [Note: The Pediatrics link is to a short abstract.  Subscription needed to read the full article.]

The first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was published in 1964. I hope it doesn’t take more than 50 years to protect young people’s hearing.

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.

Will the nation’s young be obese with hearing loss, too?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I recently read a report via AMA Wire citing a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that estimates 57% of today’s young people will be obese by age 35. One wonders how many of them, after two or three decades of listening to music from tablets or personal music players using ear buds or headphones, will also suffer hearing loss.

As long as the regulators are asleep at the wheel, and the American Association of Pediatrics fails to adequately educate parents about the dangers of hearing loss from noise exposure, I guess we’ll find out in a few decades as today’s children sign up to be fitted with hearing aids. Despite concerns about earbud and headphone abuse among children, the AAP doesn’t have sufficient information about the dangers of noise exposure for children on its healthychildren.org website.

And, meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has declined to take action on the basis of false advertising for headphones marketed as “safe” for hearing of children as young as age three using an 85 decibel volume limit, even though a 85 A-weighted decibels is an occupational noise exposure standard–meant for adult workers–and A-weighting usually reduces measured sound levels by 5-7 decibels. The pediatricians say nothing about these unsafe headphones.

Twenty to thirty years from now, will today’s children wonder why the government and medical professionals sat on their hands and watched as they slowly destroyed their hearing, doing little or nothing to protect those who didn’t know better on their own?

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.

Too loud: noisy toys can damage a child’s hearing

Photo credit: Terence Ong licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, the Quiet Coalition

This report from a Phoenix, Arizona television station mentions children’s toys that are so loud they can damage hearing. Noise level is an important thing for parents, grandparents, and aunts, uncles, and friends to think about during the holiday season and all year long.

The only thing I disagree with in the report is the statement, “[t]he maximum sound level a child should be exposed to is 85 decibels.” I don’t think there is any scientific basis for this statement. The National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states, “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” But the NIDCD fails to give a time limit.

As I wrote in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, 70 decibels time weighted average for 24 hours is the only evidence based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. My blog post for the American Journal of Public Health further explained why the real safe noise exposure level is likely to be lower.

The 85 decibel standard comes from the occupational noise exposure level, which is 85 A-weighted decibels. It isn’t a safe noise exposure standard without a time limit, and it doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

If you are unsure whether the noise level is safe, either get a sound meter app for your smart phone or follow this simple rule: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud! If you can’t converse easily over a sound, it’s above 75 A-weighted decibels, which is the Auditory Injury Threshold, and hearing damage is occurring.

Children rely on us to protect them from many things, and noise exposure is one them.  So this holiday season, do a little research before you buy to make sure you are getting the children in your life fun and safe toys.

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.

85 decibels is not a safe sound level for anyone, particularly children

Photo credit: Luis Marina licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It’s very frustrating to see headphones advertised as safe for children when they use the 85 decibel noise exposure standard without specifying a time limit. It shouldn’t be surprising, though, as even the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states, “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.”

But 85 decibels is not a safe noise level without a time exposure limit. I wrote about this in the American Journal of Public Health in January 2017. This 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) exposure standard is an occupational standard: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that workers get no more than 85 A-weighted decibels noise exposure, calculated for an average working life of 8 hours a day, 240 days a year, for 40 years. Even that exposure level doesn’t prevent all exposed workers from hearing loss. A-weighting reflects the frequencies heard by the human ear and A-weighting almost always lowers the sound measurement by 5-7 decibels. The decibel scale is a logarithmic scale, which means that 3 decibels more indicates a doubling of sound energy, and it is sound energy that destroys the cochlear hair cells, the basic sensory organ for hearing.

For children who may start using headphones as early as three years old, 40-years exposure to 85 decibels delivered directly to their ears via headphones means that they may be profoundly hearing impaired in their mid 40s. That’s not a good thing.

I suppose headphones with the occupational noise exposure level, A-weighted or not, as a volume limit are better than headphones without any volume limit. But
parents and grandparents would be wise to avoid getting their little darlings these unsafe headphones, or any headphones, unless they want to buy them hearing aids when they get older.

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 Hits A Younger Generation

Photo credit: flattop341 licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Hearing loss is commonly seen only as a problem for older people, not younger ones.

As I have written before, it’s seen as part of normal aging even when the scientific evidence shows that good hearing should be preserved into old age.

But when children start listening to music with headphones or earbuds before they start kindergarten, and those in their teens and twenties listen to personal music players for hours each day, earlier hearing loss is inevitable.

I think there already is an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss that will only get worse in coming decades, when those children reach their 40s or 50s.

Media observers don’t seem to be as concerned as I am, but this article in the Chicago Tribune gets it right.

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.

Study: Urban noise worst in poor and minority neighborhoods

Photo credit: Franck Michel licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

That noise is worse in poor and minority communities, especially in cities, is not new. Articles dating back to the sixties spoke to the impacts of noise in poorer communities, not just noises from outside the homes, but noises within the crowded apartments of large, urban cities. It was hypothesized that children whose classrooms were exposed to the noise of nearby elevated trains would suffer cognitively and this would result in poorer reading scores for these children.

Today, however, with modern technology allowing actual measurements to be taken in communities, we can more accurately measure community decibel levels and conduct studies as discussed here that find urban noise pollution worst in poorer, minority areas.

There is now an abundance of studies that have found that noise adversely affects mental and physical health. With better data to identify communities adversely affected by louder sounds, coupled with supportive literature linking noise to adverse mental and physical health problems, one would hope that the authors of the present research would have suggested ways to abate the noise. Sadly, the authors missed that opportunity, stressing instead that further research is required to deal with deleterious effects of noise.

One exception to the results of the research discussed above is a type of noise that tends to be an “equal opportunity offender.” Aircraft noise does not distinguish between poorer and more advantaged communities. Yet, one could say that individuals in more affluent neighborhoods are better organized to combat the overhead noises, though the citizens combating aircraft-related noises would not agree with the authors of this paper who state that “…the most successful U.S. noise reduction efforts have centered on the airline industry.”

The manner in which aircraft noise is measured by the FAA and the decibel level it has established as being intrusive falsely create the impression that far fewer people are affected by aviation noise. True, newer quieter engines are more efficient, but this does not allow one to conclude that aircraft noise is less bothersome. The use of inappropriate determinants to assess impacts, the increase in air traffic, and the new routes that have been deemed by citizens to be more intrusive speak more accurately to the adverse effects of aircraft noise.

In the end, whatever the source of noise or the community affected, one thing is obvious–environmental health researchers should go beyond publishing and seek ways to use their findings to improve the lives of individuals affected by deleterious pollutants such as noise.

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.

Protecting your teenager from noise-induced hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece suggests that you may decrease noise-induced hearing loss in your teenager by limiting personal music player listening to 60% of maximum volume for 60 minutes. I suppose anything is better than nothing, but I’m not sure how one precisely measures 60% of a personal music player’s volume. And if the one-hour limit is repeated several times a day–or the teen doesn’t follow this silly parental rule–I can guarantee that this approach won’t work.

My children are more than a decade past their teens now, so personal music players just weren’t an issue when they were younger. And I’m not sure how I would address the subject, either, but one approach might be to take them to a hearing aid store, or point out older people wearing hearing aids (in this case, one of them happens to be Grandpa) and then to tell them that a hearing aid is in their future if they don’t turn down the volume.

It’s hard for a parent to keep teenagers from doing unsafe or unhealthy things which may have lifelong consequences. The teen brain just isn’t wired that way. And saying to a teen that occasional exposure to loud noise damaging hearing is ok is just like telling him or her that occasional unprotected sex, heroin use, or driving without wearing a seatbelt is okay too, when, obviously, they are not.

The real responsibility for protecting our young falls to governments. We don’t allow people under 18 to smoke. We set an age at which a teenager can get a license to drive a car. They can’t drink alcohol until 21. And maybe they shouldn’t be listening to personal music players until age 15 or 18 as well. At a minimum, the Consumer Product Safety Commission should require warning labels to be placed on personal music players, headphones, and earbuds:

WARNING: USE OF THIS PRODUCT CAN CAUSE HEARING LOSS

Yes, smokers ignore warning labels, but the smoking rate among men has fallen from about 50% in the 1950s to near 20% today. And at least with smoking the government has tried to do something to protect Americans’ health. The federal government should target the causes of hearing damage now, or risk almost an entire generation marked by hearing loss.

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.

Children need quiet

Jennifer King Lindley, Real Simple, has written a fascinating article about the importance of quiet time for children entitled, “The One Thing Your Kid Needs—and Isn’t Getting.” Lindley begins her piece with an interview of Arline Bronzaft, PhD, noted noise activist and co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, whose landmark research “found that the reading scores of elementary students in classrooms located next to train tracks lagged a full year behind their peers in quieter classrooms on the other side of the building.” Dr. Bronzaft states that not only does noise interfere with learning, it causes a great deal of stress that leads to learned helplessness, “the feeling that you just have to sit there and take it,” which then causes still more stress.

But noise doesn’t just interfere with formal education, as Lindley tells us that “even moderate background noise can interfere with the ability of babies to learn new words.”

So what can you do to protect your children? Lindley offers specific advice for young children and teens, but both sets of advice basically distill down to two important elements: reducing background noise and distracting devices and learning to embrace quiet time.

Lindley’s article is an interesting read and well worth your time. Click the link above to read it in full.

 

 

UK shops to offer “quiet support” to autistic customers

in a campaign titled the “Autism Hour.”  The Independent reports that “[t]he Autism Hour has been organized by the National Autistic Society to help draw attention to the difficulties that people with autism can face in noisy environments.” Autistic children often have difficulty dealing with loud spaces and when confronted with a noisy environment, they may go into a “meltdown.” To make shopping easier for them and their parents, beginning in the first week of October, “businesses will turn down music, reduce tannoy (loudspeaker) announcements and dim lights to help create a calming and less daunting environment.” Many major retailers have already signed up to participate, including Toys R Us.

Kudos to the National Autistic Society for getting major retailers on board this initiative. UK residents have been working on getting retailers to agree to trial a “quiet hour” program for some years, and some retailers agreed. With the launch of the Autism Hour campaign, one hopes that quiet accommodation is now a regular feature of retail stores in the UK. Meanwhile, Toys R Us has taken the lead in offering accommodation for autistic customers in the U.S., by simply modeling their U.S. program after their UK experience. Thanks to the persistence from those who need or prefer a quieter shopping experience, the U.S. is poised to catch up with the UK and offer accommodation for those who cannot tolerate noisy environments.