Noise and children

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.

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.