Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Measuring sound levels

Photo credit: Phonical licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

People sometimes wonder how to measure sound levels. Until recently, one had to buy a sound meter. OSHA-certified ones can cost more than $1000, although reasonable quality sound meters have long been available for less than $100, but technology changed all that. Now there are free or inexpensive sound meter apps for both Android and Apple smartphones.

I lack both the technical knowledge and the equipment to evaluate these, but fortunately researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have done the work.

The apps for iPhones are more accurate than those for Android phones due to standardization of hardware and software, but there are a lot of good free apps available.  NIOSH offers one that it developed for workers but is free to all.

But you really don’t need a sound meter app to know if it’s too loud. If you need to strain to speak or to be heard at the normal social distance of 3-4 feet, the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and your hearing is at risk. The auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 dBA. Regardless of what your sound meter says, or even if you can somehow converse despite the noise, if the noise is loud enough to bother your ears, that also indicates that your hearing is probably being damaged.

There are individual variations in sensitivity to noise. What is loud enough to bother you may not bother someone else. It’s clear that some people are more sensitive to noise than others, just as some people don’t get a sunburn even in the brightest sun and others don’t seem to gain weight despite what they eat.

So if the noise is bothering you, either leave the noisy environment or put in your earplugs.

As I often write, “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.

Annoyed by restaurant playlists, a musician makes his own

Photo credit: Terje Sollie from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The New York Times writes about the seasonal playlists that musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto complied for the Kajitsu restaurant in New York City.  Sakamoto approached the chef with this list because he could not bear the music the restaurant played for its customers.

Not every restaurant can have a music pro compile its playlist, but at the least they can turn down the volume and let their customers enjoy their conversation.

And you don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud or not. If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without raising your voice to be heard, or you strain to hear your dining companions, the ambient noise level is above 75 A-weighted decibels.

Not by coincidence, that is also the auditory injury threshold, the sound level at which hearing damage begins.

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.

Going to a music festival this summer?

Make sure you go prepared with first-rate hearing protection. Cory Rosenberg, Mother Nature Network, writes about the growing popularity of music festivals and the potential harm they may cause.  Says Rosenberg, “live concerts have played a large part in the rise of noise-induced hearing loss over the past few decades for music fans and musicians alike.”

Rosenberg’s piece is pretty thorough, but he makes one glaring error when he says “[c]onsistent exposure to noise levels that reach 85 decibels A-weighted (dBA) is considered harmful.” As Dr. Daniel Fink has noted repeatedly, 85 dBA is an occupational noise exposure limit that was not intended, and is not appropriate, for the general public.

That proviso aside, if you are planing on going to a music festival this summer, you should give Rosenberg’s piece a read.

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.