Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Noise kills

Photo credit: Pete G licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Most people, including most doctors, don’t know that noise causes both hearing damage–hearing loss, tinnitus and hyperacusis–as well as a whole host of non-auditory health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and death.

These non-auditory health effects are discussed in this article that reviews the current literature.

The European Union understands the dangers that noise exposure poses, and it is taking steps to protect the public via the Environmental Noise Directive.

If enough Americans make sure their elected representatives know that they are worried about how noise affects us, maybe the U.S. will become quieter and healthier, too.

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.

Hearing-related problems are common among preschool teachers

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anyone who has seen a bunch of schoolchildren, in a park or a museum or a zoo–perhaps anywhere other than a library–knows that they can be noisy. And noise exposure causes hearing problems.

This report from Sweden discusses the high prevalence of hearing-related problems among preschool teachers there, including hearing loss, difficulty understanding speech, and sensitivity to noise.

The findings have to be replicated in other countries–maybe Swedish kids are noisier than others?–but the report shows that noise is a ubiquitous occupational hazard, even for preschool teachers.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

A simple treatment may minimize hearing loss triggered by loud noise

Photo credit: ZaldyImg licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report discusses a simple treatment that may minimize hearing loss triggered by loud noise.

It’s interesting that the sense of fullness in the ear after loud noise exposure is actually caused by swelling in the inner ear. Many people report this sensation, and a decreased ability to hear, after attending a rock concert or using loud power tools.

I have the same comments about this report as I made about the many similar previous reports of treatments to prevent hearing loss after noise exposure:

1. This is a very preliminary report. Even if this report is confirmed by other studies, it will take years if not decades for the treatment to be approved for human use.

2. In this case, injecting a solution through the ear drum into the middle ear isn’t as easy as one might think. The ear drum is very sensitive and contact causes pain. So I’m not sure how people are going to be able to do this.

3. Finally, other than for the soldiers who may not be able to avoid noise exposure, for most people it’s easy to avoid noise exposure–avoid loud noise or use hearing protection if you can’t.

Prevention of a problem is a whole lot better than trying to treat it.

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.

Quieter kitchens are possible

Photo credit: Bill Wilson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article is about making commercial kitchens quieter but the same principles apply to home kitchens.

Noise from blenders, mixers, and clanging pots and pans is loud enough to cause hearing damage.

We should probably put in our earplugs before kitchen appliances, and shouldn’t turn up the music loud enough to be heard over them!

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.

Portable listening devices are too loud

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This paper in BMC Public Health reports that sound levels from portable listening devices (also called personal music players) are loud enough to damage hearing.

It’s long past time for regulators to take steps to protect the hearing of our young people, who are the predominant users of these devices. What are they waiting for?

I have predicted an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss in young people for three years, since I became a noise activist and learned how damaging noise is for hearing.

So far there are only anecdotal reports of more cases of hearing loss and tinnitus in younger people in their teens, twenties, and thirties, but when the epidemiology reports come out, I will say, “I told you so.”

But that will give scant satisfaction, because it will be too late for those with hearing loss. The damage will have been done, and there is no cure. There is only one certain way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss: avoid loud sound.  Always.

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.

First potential biomarker for noise-induced hearing loss identified

The author, Julia R. Barrett, has dedicated this image to the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers at the University of Connecticut found increase levels of a protein called prestin in blood after exposure to loud noise. The prestin comes from the hair cells in the cochlea when they are damaged by noise. If this research holds up, it can help researchers study drugs that might prevent hearing loss from noise exposure.

Of course, one doesn’t need a new protein or a drug to prevent hearing loss from noise exposure.

Just avoid loud noise.

If the ambient noise level is high enough that you have to strain to speak or to be heard when having a normal conversation, the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels, and your hearing is being damaged.

Remember: if it sounds, too loud, it IS too loud!

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.

March 3 is World Hearing Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

For the past several years, the World Health Organization has sponsored World Hearing Day, one day during the year when WHO draws attention to hearing health issues.

Each year WHO selects a theme for its communications. This year, the theme is “Hear the future.” With the theme “Hear the future,” World Hearing Day 2018 will draw attention to the anticipated increase in the number of people with hearing loss around the world in the coming decades. It will focus on preventive strategies to stem the rise and outline steps to ensure access to the necessary rehabilitation services and communication tools and products for people with hearing loss.

There are many causes of hearing loss–congenital conditions, repeated ear infections, head trauma, degenerative genetic conditions, various chronic diseases, and ototoxic drugs among them–but the most common cause of hearing loss is noise exposure.

Which should give us a sense of hope in the fight against hearing loss, because unlike other causes, noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Remember: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Your ears are like your knees or your eyes: you only have two of them. Take good care of them, protect them from loud noise, and you will be able to hear well all your life.

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.

A wave of hearing loss in young people is being predicted

and the cause of this epidemic, says Teresa Cowie, Radio New Zealand, is damaging levels of sound from personal audio devices and noisy venues, like nightclubs. Will it really be an epidemic? Cowie cites the World Health Organization, which puts the number of at risk teenagers and young adults at more than a billion. Who are these at-risk young people? Mostly 12-to-35 years olds in well off countries who listen to unsafe levels of sound on their personal audio devices and smart phones.

So how does the WHO and other health organizations know that an epidemic is on the way? Cowie interviewed Peter Thorne, an audiology professor at Auckland University, who said “[t]here are some studies where younger people coming into the workforce, areas where they might take audiograms or do hearing tests – like the military for example – and those studies have shown a proportion of youth coming in with hearing losses.”

Thorne notes that the rules for limits on sound volume are voluntary for the manufacturers of personal audio devices, but the WHO is “currently review regulations around the volume levels devices should be allowed to reach.”

Let’s hope that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies join in the effort to regulate the sound levels on these devices. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, after all, and given that there is no effective treatment or cure for hearing loss, anything less than a robust response would be criminal.

 

 

Loud music can damage classical musicians’ hearing, too

Photo credit: Derek Gleeson licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When we think of music damaging the ears, we think of rock musicians, many of whom unfortunately have noise-induced hearing loss or tinnitus, or of young people going to clubs or rock concerts. We don’t think of classical musicians.

But loud noise doesn’t discriminate–it can damage anyone’s ears, including workers, hunters, and yes, even a professional viola player.

These two reports describe an ongoing legal case in London, where a viola player has sued the Royal Opera House for damage he claims occurred during a Wagner performance, despite wearing ear plugs.

The Royal Opera House is claiming that such damage isn’t possible, and that it isn’t responsible, but I would disagree. It’s hard to study the effects of intermittent or impulsive noise exposure even in the occupational setting, but several facts are well-established:

  1. extremely loud sound can cause mechanical disruption to structures in the inner ear;
  2. there are marked variations in individual sensitivities to noise damage, which are not well understood; and
  3. many people do not get sufficient protection from ear plugs due to poor fit or improper use, even with instruction and practice.

The resolution of this case is not up to us but within the purview of the court.

But the lesson we can all learn is that “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.”

And if noise is bothersome, that’s the signal to leave immediately, before your ears are damaged. After all, unlike knees or hips, they can’t be replaced.

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.