Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Why you temporarily hear muffled sound after a loud noise

Photo credit: Katie Tegtmeyer licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise-induced temporary threshold shift, or NITTS, describes the temporary muffling of sound after a person is exposed to loud noise. This article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Eureka Alert details a report in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that provides an explanation for NITTS. Namely, researchers in Sweden found changes in calcium ions in the tectorial membrane of the cochlea.

While NITTS is a real and observable finding, the idea that auditory damage from noise is temporary is most likely false. Research by Liberman and Kujawa and colleagues at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary strongly suggests that there is no such thing as temporary auditory damage. And decades of occupational noise exposure studies show that NITTS eventually becomes NIPTS, noise-induced permanent threshold shift, i.e., noise-induced hearing loss. That is, your awareness of muffled hearing following exposure to loud noise is temporary, but the damage caused by the loud noise is permanent.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. Avoid noise exposure and if one can’t avoid noise exposure, use hearing protection devices.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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 scourge that is electric hand dryers

Photo credit: Travis Wise licensed under CC BY 2.0

Llyod Alter, the design editor at Treehugger, recently asked whether Dyson electric hand dryers were “the world’s worst design object.” In his post, Alter quotes Mark Lamster, architecture critic for the Dallas News, who called the Dyson Airblade “the most abhorrent work of design in recent memory.”  What drove Lamster to this conclusion?  Noise was first and foremost. Said Lamster:

For starters, the Dyson Airblade is deafening. Running a Dyson Airblade is the aural equivalent of standing on an airport runway while a 747 throttles up for takeoff. That’s because the machine works not by using heat, but by blowing air at such velocity that it “scrapes” the water off your hands. (This is its supposed advantage over conventional, hot-air hand dryers, which are also awful.)

Alter eventually disagrees with Lamster after doing an analysis that compares the global warming burden of electric hand dryers versus paper towels. Not surprisingly, the hand dryer over its life time produces a smaller burden than using paper towels over the same period. Of course, we think one should also weigh the consequences of having “aerosolized fecal matter” spewed about, but maybe we are just a bit too sensitive.

So, is the Dyson the world’s worst design object? We say no.  Why?  Because that title belongs to the Xlerator, our hand drying nemesis.

Another drug trial to prevent noise-induced hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This press release from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says that the medical school is receiving a $10 million grant from the Army to test whether an epilepsy drug can prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

The study population includes patients undergoing surgical procedures requiring use of noisy drills and police officers.

While I’m glad that people who can’t avoid loud noise may have an option that will offer them some level of protection, for most of us it’s a whole lot easier to prevent noise-induced hearing loss by just avoiding exposure to loud noise.

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 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.

Noisy restaurants are a problem in Seattle

Photo credit: Joe Mabel licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Jill Lightner, The Seattle Times, discusses noisy restaurants in the Seattle area. Lightner reports that indeed restaurants have gotten louder, and discusses some of the reasons why. She also reports that when people contact her, their most common request isn’t for a good restaurant, or an exciting new one, but for a quiet one.

This isn’t a new complaint. In the last few years, Zagat surveys document restaurant noise as the first or second most common complaint, alternating with poor service depending on the city and the year.

If the markets don’t provide what people really want, that’s an example of what the economists call market failure. Government intervention by laws and regulations is necessary.

To those of us old enough to remember when smoking was allowed in restaurants, the issue of restaurant noise is akin to smoke-filled bars and restaurants. In fact, people have stated, “noise is the new secondhand smoke.”

In those ancient days, most people wanted smoke-free restaurants, but the tobacco lobby falsely pushed claims of smoking as a personal liberty issue, and those who complained were viewed as selfish, neurotic, or un-American. Finally, a combination of continued public pressure and the EPA determination that secondhand smoke was a Class A carcinogen, with no safe lower level of exposure, did lead to laws and regulations banning smoking indoors. We all live more comfortable and healthier lives as a result.

Similarly, noisy restaurants are an example of market failure.

Lightner wrongly states in her article that auditory damage begins after two hours exposure to 90 decibel (dB) sound. But, in fact, the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 dB time-weighted average for a day, and it’s mathematically impossible to achieve that exposure level after two hours at 90 dB. As this article notes, most American adults get exposed to enough noise in everyday life to cause hearing loss. The article adds that the auditory injury threshold is 75 to 78 A-weighted decibels.

You don’t need expensive equipment or even a sound meter app on your smartphone to measure this. If you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient sound is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

Quieter restaurants aren’t just a matter of being able to converse with your dining companions.  They are an issue of auditory health.  Ask your elected officials at the local, state, and national level to enact legislation to require quieter restaurants.

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.

Yesterday was World Hearing Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization declared March 3, 2019, as World Hearing Day.

Each year the WHO selects a theme for its observation of this day. This year’s theme is early detection of hearing loss, and the WHO will release an online hearing test so you can screen your hearing.

It’s important to know if you have hearing loss, but it’s more important to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

So remember: If something sounds too loud, it IS too loud! Avoid loud noise when you can, and when you can’t, wear hearing protection.

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.

New technology may help the hard of hearing

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New technology may help the hard of hearing by providing automatic captioning of live conversations on smart phones. This article by Richard Nieva, CNET, describes the technology, which is limited to Android phones, but I’m sure that Apple will soon follow with similar technology for iPhones. After all, the potential market is 50 million adults with hearing loss in the U.S., and over 400 million worldwide.

And all data suggest that, for a number of reasons, this is unfortunately a growth market.

But I can guarantee that preserved natural hearing is far better than any technological solution to hearing loss, be it hearing aids, personal sound amplification products, or the new Google app.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. Simply avoid loud noise and you won’t lose your hearing.

Your ears are like your eyes or your knees–you only have two of them! Protect them and they will last you a lifetime.

And 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 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.

CDC educates public about the dangers of noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Our contacts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have informed The Quiet Coalition that the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health will be educating the public about the dangers of noise exposure at sports events, via advertisements in official printed programs for NHL, NBA, and NFL games, including this year’s Super Bowl LIII. An example of the advertisement appears at the top of this post. One of the ads suggests that these efforts will even extend to NASCAR races.

Research done by the CDC showed that about 25% of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, and that 53% of these people with NIHL had no major occupational exposure to loud noise. The hearing damage was occurring outside the workplace.

We applaud the CDC’s educational effort, but suspect that, as with creating the largely smoke-free environment we now enjoy, much more must be done. Namely, real change won’t happen until government regulations are promulgated that set standards for noise levels in different settings and require the use, or at least the offer, of hearing protection devices to attendees. Nothing less will protect the nation’s auditory health.

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.

Stadium noise is still a problem

Phto credit: David Reber licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article predicted that crowd noise in Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, would be a problem for the visiting New England Patriots. Arrowhead Stadium is where the Guinness world record stadium noise of 142.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA) was recorded. That exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible exposure level for occupational noise.

Well, it was noisy, but the Patriots won in overtime and will be in the Super Bowl. And in New Orleans, the visiting Los Angeles Rams quieted the noisy New Orleans Saints crowd, also by winning in overtime, setting a matchup with the Patriots.

I hope those attending the few remaining football games–the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl are the only professional games until August–wear hearing protection. Because any temporary symptoms of ringing in the ears or muffling of sound indicate that permanent auditory damage has occurred, presaging noise-induced hearing loss.

There’s no cure for hearing loss, which makes government inaction in the face of intentionally loud noise particularly galling. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, and to not get it, we simply have to avoid loud noise or wear hearing protection.

So if you are headed to the few remaining games, bring your earplugs–because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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.

Is the New York Philharmonic dangerously loud?

Photo credit: Shinya Suzuki licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One usually associates loud music with rock concerts and not classical music played by one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, but that has changed. This report by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, a New York Times music critic, says the New York Philharmonic is playing too loudly. Her concern is the effect loud playing has on the quality of the music, not preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

When I attend a concert, my concerns are about both.

I have hyperacusis, a condition where sound levels not bothersome to others cause discomfort and pain for me. And I know that noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.

When Essa-Pekka Salonen was music director, the Philharmonic’s sound levels weren’t a problem. But under his successor, the wonderful Gustavo Dudamel, they are.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Dudamel’s conducting, and most of the time the orchestra’s sound is exquisite. But he plays some pieces about 10 decibels louder than Maestro Salonen did, e.g., Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Now I make sure to bring a pair of earplugs with me when we go.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

And with louder symphony orchestras, hearing loss and other auditory problems aren’t just a worry for the musicians. They might be problems for the audience, 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 loss is no joke: 40% of hearing disabled can’t get jobs

Photo credit: Andreas Klinke Johannsen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

According to Cornell researchers cited in this news item from NPR, fewer than 40% of people with a hearing disability work full time. This startling statistic was uncovered by Cornell’s Yang-Tan Institute’s analysis of 2016 American Community Survey data. Wow!

If you, like we at The Quiet Coalition, are concerned about the burgeoning and long-ignored problem of noise-induced hearing loss in the U.S., that’s a very scary prospect. Even with unemployment in the U.S. currently at an historic low of 3.5%, people with hearing disorders still suffer an employment rate of 10 times that!

Hearing is precious, we all know that. But it’s also an economic necessity, especially if you need to earn a living. So remember: protect your own and your family members’ hearing, because exposure to high levels of noise—at work, at home, or at play—is dangerous, unhealthy, and could also be economically disastrous.

As our chairman, Dr. Daniel Fink says: “If it sounds too loud it IS too loud.”

Carry hearing protection with you, always. It really matters.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.