Noise

Silence, please! Is it really possible to mute the world?

Photo credit: Kat Jayne from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In a word, no. But this fascinating essay mentions a 1957 science fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke predicting a machine that does that, and now scientists are working on actualizing that idea.

We’ll see how successful they are, and of course how much the new technology costs. But it seems to me that it’s much simpler to use existing technologies, or even just to enforce existing noise ordinances, than to try to develop a whole new technology. Acoustic technology is highly developed. Reduce noise at the source by design and material choices, and if that can’t be done, insulate, isolate, reflect, or contain the sound. And laws to reduce harmful and unwanted noise have long existed, including building codes, zoning codes, federal laws about vehicle mufflers, local laws about horn use, etc.

As noise pioneer Arline Bronzaft PhD wrote many years ago, it’s a matter of will, not of way, to make the world a quieter and more enjoyable place for all.

I sent these remarks to Dr. Bronzaft as a courtesy, to make sure she wanted to be quoted and to make sure I got it right. She replied with a wonderful insight: people don’t want silence, they want quiet so they can hear others talk, hear the raindrops fall, hear birds singing.

Of course, she’s right!

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.

Living with misophonia

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

Natalie Reilly, NZ Herald, writes about living with misophonia, the “hatred of sound.” Eating sounds are particularly enraging for Reilly, and she confides that she hates hearing her husband eat. Which could be a real problem, except he suffers from misophonia as well and, well, he hates the sounds she makes when she eats. And so this couple have found a solution to maintain marital bliss: one eats in front of the tv, the other eats in the kitchen.

Reducing Loud Sounds and Noise: A Health Matter

Photo credit: Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s board member and co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, has an important article in the latest issue of The Hearing Journal.

Noise bothers people but it’s more than a nuisance. It is a public health hazard causing auditory disorders, such as hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and non-auditory health problems, like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death.

The scientific data about these problems and the causal nature of the relationships between noise and human disease is overwhelming.

There is always a need for more research, but there can be no rational doubt about the data. And the engineering techniques to make things quieter have been known since the 1960s. Making the world quieter is a political problem, not a scientific problem.

Those of us old enough to remember when restaurants, offices, planes, trains, and buses were filled with unwanted cigarette smoke know that banning smoking in public spaces has made the air we breathe cleaner, with dramatic impacts on health and well-being.

As with smoke, it will be with noise. If enough people complain to enough elected officials, or run for public office on a platform of making the world a quieter place, it can be made quieter, 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.

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.

Meanwhile, in France…

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs (a game of pétanque in Bryant Park, NYC)

The Local France reports that a French mayor has banned ‘noisy’ pétanque playing  during “anti-social hours.” Seems harsh, butan “official document” notes that “the activity of pétanque playing causes repeated noise such as rattling balls, accompanied by the sound of loud voices and screams.” Anyone who has been in a sports bar during an “important” game will surely understand.

In any event, the mayor’s ban is reasonable–it is only from 11:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.–and exceptions will be considered.

Din with your dinner?

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Meredith Goad, Portland Press-Herald, writes about restaurant noise and how diners are getting fed up with the din that invariably accompanies their dinner. Her piece is thorough and respectful, and her suggestions are thoughtful.  Yes, tell the manager that the loud music is the reason you will not be returning, and do download a sound meter app so you can measure decibel levels when you eat out.

That said, one doesn’t need a sound meter app to know if it’s too loud. If you have to strain to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise level is above 75 A-weighted decibels and your hearing is being damaged. And no meal is worth permanent hearing damage.

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.

 

How loud is too loud?

Photo credit: Your Best Digs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

How loud is too loud? Probably between 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and 75 dBA, the auditory injury threshold, not the occupational noise exposure limit of 85 decibels cited in this article.

We are glad to see any publication warning about the dangers of noise and advocating use of hearing protective devices, as earplugs and earmuff hearing protectors are more broadly known, but this piece just gets the basic science wrong.

As the NIOSH Science Blog discussed in 2016, an occupational noise exposure limit is not a safe noise level for the public.

Smart phone sound level meter apps provide good to very accurate sound level measurements, but you really don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud.

If it’s loud enough that you have to strain to speak or to be heard–a typical noise level when using power equipment or tools, hair dryers, kitchen mixers, or eating in many restaurants–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is being damaged.

And certainly if the sound level is loud enough to cause momentary pain or discomfort, or subsequent muffling or sound or ringing in the ears, you are on your way to hearing loss.

It’s easy to protect your hearing for your whole life. If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Avoid loud noise or use hearing protective devices, or need hearing aids. The choice is yours.

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.

Does noise kill thousands every year?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Richard Godwin in The Guardian discusses the health dangers of noise exposure, including increased mortality. The dangers of noise are well-known in Europe, where the Environmental Noise Directive requires European Union member states to develop and implement government policies to reduce noise exposure for their citizens. Writes Godwin:

Noise exposure has also been linked with cognitive impairment and behavioural issues in children, as well as the more obvious sleep disturbance and hearing damage. The European Environment Agency blames 10,000 premature deaths, 43,000 hospital admissions and 900,000 cases of hypertension a year in Europe on noise. The most pervasive source is road-traffic noise: 125 million Europeans experience levels greater than 55 decibels – thought to be harmful to health – day, evening and night.

Somehow, this body of knowledge has yet to reach this side of the Atlantic Ocean, even though the overwhelming majority of experts think that the scientific evidence is strong enough to establish causality, not merely a correlation or association of noise and health problems.

I am confident that when the public does learn about the dangers of noise for health–not just causing hearing loss, but also hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and death–Americans will also push their elected officials for laws and regulations to achieve a quieter environment.

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.