Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

London searching for ways to quiet the Underground

Photo credit: Skitterphoto from Pexels

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

That the London Underground has been recently cited as producing very loud noises that are disturbing to riders, employees, and nearby neighbors is nothing new to New Yorkers who have complained about New York City’s loud subways and elevated trains for many years.

Over forty years ago, I published a paper that found that nearby elevated train noise impacted adversely on the classroom learning of students in a school next to the elevated tracks.  The findings of this study resulted in the placement of resilient rubber pads on the nearby tracks to lessen the noise and the installation of acoustical ceilings in classes near the tracks.  A second study, after noise abatement, found that children in classrooms near the tracks were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. The New York City Transit Authority then instituted a program to install these resilient rubber pads along the entire elevated track system.

After working with the Transit Authority on two occasions on its noise issues, I learned that transit noise is not only disturbing to all those subjected to these sounds but transit noise is often the result of poor maintenance and as a result can lead to potential breakdowns in the system. I wrote a paper linking transit noise to breakdowns in the system and explained that correcting transit noise is not a matter of knowing what to do but rather of not being willing to do it.  This is true for cities other than New York.

In reading that London is searching for technology to quiet its system, I noted that the same procedures that have existed for years to lessen the noise are being considered.

One would think that such procedures should have been examined at the first sign that the system was getting louder.  Actually, that they weren’t should not be surprising because my work on noise issues has taught me that for actions to be taken, those in charge have to be “hit on the head” before something is done to reduce noise.

A group of London campaigners concerned about transit noise has asked Transport for London to put up signs warning people about the noise. One would assume that hearing protection could then be used by transit riders. Transport for London’s response was that the transit system’s noise was ‘highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

Really? What about the impacts on the hearing of employees who are exposed to these high sounds for many hours daily? What about the health of people living near the tracks who have been complaining? What about the discomfort to riders who use the system regularly? I would suggest that Transport for London learn more about the impacts of noise pollution which affects more than our ears—noise adversely impacts on our health and well-being. I would also urge that the noise issue be addressed with haste.

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.

 

Animal study may have implications on human hearing issues

Photo credit: Батяшев Александр licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitionhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

I’ve only read the press release and the abstract for this paper in JNeurosci but the findings are interesting. In chinchillas–a common animal model for hearing research–scientists at the University of Rochester and Purdue University found that mild noise-induced hearing loss also caused changes in nerve processing of auditory signals.

This may have implications for humans in terms of the very common “speech in noise” problem, in which people with normal audiograms complain that they can’t understand a conversation if the ambient noise level is moderate to high.

But to me, the most important implication of this study is that it emphasizes how important it is to protect our ears.

The only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels a day and even that low level of noise exposure may be too high.

According to the World Health Organization, only one hour at 85 A-weighted decibels is enough to cause hearing loss.

The CDC states that noise-Induced hearing loss is entirely preventable.  Avoid exposure to loud noise, or wear hearing protection if one can’t.

Because if something 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.

Study urges efforts to prevent noise-induced hearing loss

This image is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Purdue University highlights research done there with the University of Rochester that shows noise-induced hearing loss has worse effects on hearing than hearing loss caused by age-related metabolic loss. Specifically, the researchers found that “noise trauma causes substantially greater changes in neural processing of complex sounds compared with age-related metabolic loss,” which the researchers think may explain why there are “large differences in speech perception commonly seen between people with the same clinically defined degree of hearing loss based on an audiogram.”

According to the CDC, noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. In public health, prevention of disease is almost always better and cheaper than treatment of a disease or condition.  For hearing, natural hearing preserved into old age is much better and much cheaper than costly hearing aids.

So remember: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.  Avoid excessive noise exposure and use hearing protection now, or need 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.

Want a quieter town? Urge local government to “Buy Quiet”

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

These two 5-minute videos from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spell out how business owners can reduce noise-induced hearing loss by creating “Buy Quiet” programs as a first step when purchasing or renting machinery or tools.  The Buy Quiet program “encourages companies to purchase or rent quieter machinery and tools to reduce worker noise exposure” when they first start up or when older machinery and tools are replaced. You can make your town or neighborhood quieter by getting your local government to encourage it’s own departments–as well as area businesses–to Buy Quiet.

Buy Quiet programs originated at NASA, where they were concerned about astronauts who, it turns out, were exposed to excessive and dangerous noise level when they were floating around in space.

But Buy Quiet gradually expanded to other federal agencies, for instance the National Park Service, eventually reaching the CDC, which realized that exposing the public to excessive noise levels from construction, traffic, airports, etc. was actually a dangerous public health problem. At that point, the CDC and other federal agencies began publishing the kind of public education materials linked above and much more.

It’s time for all of us to take the noise problem seriously. Remember, as our chairman Dr. Fink says, “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!”

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.

Restaurant servers and bartenders warned about noise

Photo credit: Daria Sannikova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Tricity News reports that the Canadian provincial equivalent of a state occupational safety and health organization in the U.S., WorkSafe BC, just issued a warning on noise to restaurant servers and bartenders. Specifically, WorkSafe BC warned that “[h]earing loss in the workplace can be just as damaging in the service industry as it is in heavy industrial settings.”

Patrons are only in a restaurant or bar for an hour or two, but the workers may be there for an 8-hour shift, and often the noise exposure is loud enough for a long enough period to damage hearing. No surprise then that WorkSafe BC issued the warning. One wonders what it would take for OSHA–or a state or local government health agency–to act to protect the hearing of service industry workers.

Additional information is available on the WorkSafe BC website.

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.

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.