Noise and children

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.

Good advice about protecting your children’s hearing

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from New Jersey radio station New Jersey 101.5 offers sound advice about protecting children’s hearing.

Parents should protect children’s ears from noise, just as they protect their skin from the sun. Sun causes sunburn, and over the years wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancers. Similarly, exposure to noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. Both are hazardous environmental exposures to be avoided or certainly limited.

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 best headphones for children? None!

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This post on the Parentology.com site discusses the best headphones for children in 2019. I disagree strongly. The best headphones for children are none at all! Why? Two reasons, one for auditory health and one for the child’s social and intellectual development.

First, for auditory health, headphones using the industrial-strength 85 decibel noise exposure level as a “safe” volume limit for a child’s tender ears isn’t safe. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled again Amazon advertising these headphones as safe for hearing because they’re not.

Second, allowing a child to isolate him or herself with headphones, first while watching a video on a device and then when listening to music when older, doesn’t allow the child to interact or communicate with others. And for the older children, the parent has no idea what the children are listening to.

Audiologists already report seeing younger patients with hearing loss and tinnitus instead of the senior population they are used to caring for.

And an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss and other auditory problems appears to be certain in the near future.

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 affects children’s learning

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful piece by noise pioneer Arline Bronzaft, PhD, one of The Quiet Coalition’s founders, summarizes her work and the work of others on how noise affects children’s learning.

Noise interferes with human function by disturbing concentration and interfering with communication. The EPA determined that “library quiet”– that is, a 45 dBA ambient noise level–is necessary to allow 100% speech intelligibility (see text at Figure D-1). Not surprisingly, when transportation noise intrudes into the classroom, children can’t hear what the teacher says, and this interferes with their learning.

Dr. Bronzaft’s article includes links to her groundbreaking work.

The Acoustical Society of America and the American National Standards Institute developed a standard for classroom acoustics, and more information is available at this link.

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.

NYC observes International Noise Awareness Day

Photo by Nicholas Santasier from Pexels

by Jeanine Botta, MPH, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In 1996, the League for the Hard of Hearing, now the Center for Hearing and Communication, established the first Noise Awareness Day in New York City. Eventually Noise Awareness Day became International Noise Awareness Day, a day to raise global awareness about the effects of environmental noise on human health and well-being. Today that concern extends to the harms of human generated noise on wildlife.

This year, the 24th INAD will be observed around the world on April 24th. Members and friends of The Quiet Coalition will participate in multiple events that day.  One of these is Noise, Quietness, and the Healthy City, a day-long workshop at New York University featuring speakers, discussions, hearing screenings, and a sound walk. Registration is required, and you can register for each event or the entire day.

On April 20th, two members of The Quiet Coalition will lead an interactive program in observance of INAD at the Clarendon Library in East Flatbush, Brooklyn to introduce mobile phone apps as a means of contributing to “citizen science” – a way to empower people to address community noise, and to identify and preserve quiet places. Click here for to download the flyer.

And also on April 24th, volunteers from the Acoustical Society of America will hold a Science of Sound educational program at the Bedford Library in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Registration is not required, but is recommended. Click here for more information about this program.

Learn more about INAD events worldwide at the Center for Hearing and Communication and the Acoustical Society of America websites. More comprehensive historical information about INAD can be found in this Acoustics Today article.

Jeanine Botta serves on the Board of Directors of the Right to Quiet Society for Soundscape Awareness and Protection. She also serves on the International Noise Awareness Day committee of the Technical Committee on Noise within the Acoustical Society of America. Jeanine has worked as a patient educator since 2008, and has a background in public health research administration. She also maintains the Green Car Integrity blog, a meditation on cars, tech, and noise.