Public health

How to “rock out” with headphones without damaging your hearing? You can’t!

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this article from the Cleveland Clinic, Sandra Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology, offers advice on protecting hearing when using ear buds or headphones to listen to music.

She first notes that hearing loss is 100% preventable, and this might be the only statement that is accurate. Unfortunately, the advice she gives to prevent noise-induced hearing damage is not.

This piece is like an article fifty years ago advising smokers on how to smoke safely. One can’t! There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, and there is no such thing as safe headphone or ear bud use.

Dr. Sandridge notes that many headphones and ear buds can be too loud–most personal music players put out 100-110 decibel sound and some player-headphone combinations can reach 120 to 130 dB–but she implies that 85 decibels is the sound level at which auditory damage begins.

That’s not the cutoff between safe and unsafe sound levels. It’s derived from the NIOSH recommended exposure level for occupational noise, an exposure level that doesn’t prevent hearing loss.

Even in children age 9-11, who haven’t been using headphones very long, auditory damage is already present.

The only way to prevent auditory damage is not to use ear buds or headphones. Or to use Dr. Sandridge’s language:

The only way to rock out with ear buds or headphones without damaging your hearing is not to rock out with them!

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.

Toronto to tackle transportation noise

Photo credit: GTD Aquitaine, who has released this photo into the public domain.

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

That the noise from the commuter trains, passing the homes of David Bosworth and his neighbors living in Upper Toronto, Canada, intrudes on their household conversations as well as their sleep is readily understood by the millions of residents whose household activities and sleep are disrupted daily by the noise from overhead planes, nearby trains, and passing road traffic. Mr. Bosworth, like the millions of others similarly impacted by transportation noise, feels that the noise issue has not been addressed as a serious pollutant. This, despite the abundant literature linking noise impacts to cardiovascular and sleep disorders, learning disruptions, and diminished quality of life. Furthermore, Mr. Bosworth fears that the expansion of the train route near his home will bring even more noise disruptions.

In the Globe and Mail article linked above, Sasha Zeidler writes that the Toronto regional transportation agency Metrolinx is looking to lessen the noise to which residents will be exposed in the future even as it plans to expand the transit line. Toronto, says Zeidler, is a city aware of the effects of noise on its residents and it “is aiming to reduce noise pollution from traffic, transit and other infrastructure projects.”

I, for one, will look to see whether Toronto successfully carries out its mission to reduce noise pollution.

It is interesting to note that in this article, there are references to the World Health Organization guidelines, a study published in a German academic article linking heart attacks to traffic and rail noise, mapping of noise in Florence, Italy and other Canadian noise studies but no references to research in the country south of Canada—the U.S. While the U.S. has not taken the lead in addressing noise pollution, I do not want readers to think that Americans have been lax with respect to noise research and activism. I suggest readers search back on this site for American noise studies and the Americans who are actively working to reduce noise in our society.

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.

Why hospitals should let you sleep

Photo credit: Ivan Obolensky from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Austin Frakt in the New York Times discusses the need for hospital patients to get more sleep, and the many things that disrupt a patient’s sleep when they are in the hospital. The list of culprits is obvious: alarm noise, carts in the hall, blood draws, vital signs measurements, and so on.

Uninterrupted sleep is important for everyone, not just hospital patients. Anything that interrupts sleep–horns, sirens, road traffic noise, train horns, aircraft noise, horn-based alerts, patrons exiting a nightclub or bar at closing time–is a health hazard.

I have no doubt that if enough people complain to enough elected officials about health problems caused by noise, governments at the local, state, and national levels will take action to make our cities and towns quieter.

It worked for smoke-free restaurants, workplaces, airplanes, and in some states even smoke-free beaches and parks.

Let’s all resolve to work together for a quieter world in the New Year.

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.

Should doctors screen middle-aged and older adults for hearing loss?

Photo credit: Flávia Costa licensed under CC BY 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition received an email from contacts at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is again looking at whether it should recommend screening for hearing loss. The last time it did this, USPSTF didn’t recommend screening for hearing loss in adults because no benefit had been shown from screening. The email reads:

Dear Hearing and Health Partners,

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has shared their Draft Research Plan for Hearing Loss in Older Adults: Screening on their website here. The draft plan also includes a graphic of a Proposed Analytic Framework and a Proposed Research Approach to identify the study characteristics and criteria that the Evidence-based Practice Center will use to search for publications for their evidence review.

According to the Task Force, The final Research Plan will be used to guide a systematic review of the evidence by researchers at an Evidence-based Practice Center. The resulting Evidence Review will form the basis of the Task Force Recommendation Statement on this topic. There is an opportunity for public comment on this draft until December 12, 2018. The draft research plan is available on the Task Force’s website here.

Cordially,

NCEH Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Program

There is important new research available that led to the USPSTF re-evaluating its recommendation. Several researchers have shown that most Americans get too much noise every day. The CDC reported that about 25% of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, many without occupational noise exposure, and many thinking that their hearing was excellent.

Also, newer research shows that hearing loss is not a benign condition. It is correlated in stepwise fashion (i.e., more hearing loss, more problems) with social isolation, depression, falls, accidents, and dementia, all of which in turn are associated with increased mortality in older Americans.

And even more recent research shows that providing older people with hearing aids delays the onset of dementia, all of which compels the conclusion that doctors should absolutely screen their middle-aged and above patients for hearing loss.

If you have any thoughts about screening for hearing loss, send a comment to the USPSTF. I will!

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.

Will technology bring us a quieter world?

This image is in the public domain.

by Neil Donnenfeld

New technology is going to enhance our ability to have a quieter world. The future is looking brighter and quieter!!

There is a fundamental business concept that if you can measure something you can get control of it and do something about it. The health literature sets clear limits on noise levels that are acceptable and those that lead to illness. Now, as seen in this article, it is getting easier and easier to make on the spot sound readings and to immediately determine if acceptable noise limits are being breached. We no longer need be silent in our desire to have a quieter world as we can point out objective data.

The next step is to require enforcement by government to protect those that would do us harm. This test currently under way in Edmonton is the most comprehensive and encouraging example I have seen. If you can’t stand the quiet, prepare to get measured and ticketed. The future of noise enforcement is coming.

Neil D. Donnenfeld is the President of Products Ahead, LLC, which develops and markets consumer packaged goods that provide real benefits to consumers with unmet needs. A former brand manager at Procter and Gamble, he evolved into an entrepreneurial executive and eventually became CEO at Advanced Vision Research, makers of TheraTears(R), from its start-up to its sale to a publicly traded company. Neil developed hyperacusis as a result of proton beam radiation to treat an acoustic neuroma, a rare, benign brain tumor that develops on the acoustic nerve. As a result, he has become a noise activist and is committed to helping create a quieter, more civil world. He also serves on many not for profit boards including President of the Jewish Journal, Vice Commodore of The Swampscott Yacht Club, and Vice President of Acoustic Neuroma Association.

 

 

Better hearing and sight can help keep memory sharper

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report describes studies showing that giving hard of hearing older patients hearing aids reduced memory loss, as did cataract surgery in another study. It makes sense that more sensory input keeps the brain connections active. There are a number of studies with similar results.

As I get older, I’m intrigued by aging. People of the same chronological age can have dramatically different health profiles, activity levels, and intellectual capabilities. Why? Certainly genetics plays a role, as does diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol intake, and many factors not yet understood. Yet despite our best efforts, we all eventually die. I think the goal should be compression of morbidity, that is, living full and active lives until one gets sick and dies relatively quickly.

That we have treatment of medical problems is great, but prevention is better. This applies to hearing and vision, too.

Avoiding loud noise prevents noise-induced hearing loss, the most common cause of hearing loss in the U.S. and probably in the developed world. There’s some evidence that what is called age-related hearing loss is really noise-induced hearing loss. And cataracts can largely be prevented by avoiding sun exposure and wearing sunglasses when outside.

But there’s no excitement in prevention, and little if any profit to be made for pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and hospitals. So the obviously better option–preventing damage to sight and hearing in the first place–is given short shrift.

Until prevention prevails, make sure your elderly relatives have their hearing and sight checked–hearing aids and cataract surgery might help prevent dementia.

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.

You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from technology writer Markham Heid discusses noise pollution. Heid writes about the work of noted researcher Thomas Münzel, MD, who’s 2018 study shows “the ties between loud noise and heart failure, heart attack, and stroke — as well as noise’s negative impact on a person’s sleep and cognitive performance.”

Münzel, Heid writes, asserts that noise that is “about 70 decibels — roughly the noise generated by a passing car — could be considered ‘unhealthy noise,’ because it can disturb sleep, and poor sleep is a risk factor for health issues ranging from heart disease to obesity to diabetes.” Münzel explains that the problem with noise when you are sleeping is that “[y]ou can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.”

And that’s why noise pollution makes us sick, causing hearing loss and the non-auditory health effects on the heart and damaging our mental 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.

Wind turbines in 2018

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

In October 1986, I presented a keynote address to the Community Noise Conference held in Toowoomba, co-sponsored by the Queensland Division of Noise Abatement and Air Pollution and the Australian Acoustical Society. The title of my talk was “Health Hazards of Noise.” In my talk, I spoke of noise as not just an urban phenomenon and gave examples of how residents in quieter communities can find themselves exposed to intrusive noises. One example I gave was the following:

Imagine how surprised a suburban couple were to wake up one morning to the sound of a windmill erected in the neighbor’s backyard.

In the 1980s we spoke of windmills, not wind turbines. Yet, in 1981, I actually had a court case involving a backyard windmill that was impacting on the health and well-being of a nearby neighbor. The judge in this case acknowledged the discomfort brought about by the windmill’s noise.

Now thirty years after my talk in Australia and after the court case cited above, we have a finding by an Australian Council regarding a wind farm stating that “noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals.” In several U.S. cases, courts have asked wind power operators to buy out noise-affected neighbors. A majority of the wind turbine cases argued in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Europe, and Canada, however, have found that wind turbine noise would not affect health adversely. This, despite the fact that there are published papers noting that the sounds produced by wind turbines are not being assessed properly and a number of studies reporting a link between wind turbine noise and potential health impacts.

Considering the growth of evidence suggesting the harmful impacts of wind turbine sounds on health, I believe that we need to continue to examine this link before we forge ahead in siting industrial wind turbines. And we also must continue to monitor the legal challenges to wind turbine impacts internationally.

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.

Scottish docs to begin prescribing rambling and birdwatching

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Scottish physicians on the Shetland Islands are going to start prescribing birdwatching, rambling, and beach walks to treat chronic and debilitating illnesses.

Being outdoors is good for one’s health and exercise is good for one’s health. As this recent article in JAMA shows, green spaces improve mental health, too.

And being outdoors is probably good for auditory health. As shown by the National Park Service noise map, without human intervention nature is very quiet.

One really doesn’t need any special equipment to enjoy the outdoors. Perhaps a hat, a long-sleeved shirt or a sweatshirt or jacket if it’s sunny or cool, and comfortable shoes.

We should all spend more time enjoying nature, while it’s still here to enjoy.

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.

A layperson’s guide to the WHO’s noise and health report

Photo credit: United States Mission Geneva licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by John Stewart  

The new noise and health guidelines (pdf) published last week by the World Health Organisation could prove a turning point in the fight to persuade governments and industry to put in place more effective measures to tackle noise. The guidelines are not legally binding but, given the extent of the health problems associated with noise the report identified, it will be difficult for the authorities to dismiss them out of hand. Although the guidelines were published by the European office of the WHO and strictly apply only to Europe, WHO hopes and expects they will influence noise policy across the world. My summary of the guidelines can be found here (pdf).

The guidelines are tougher than those recommended by the WHO previously. The recommended limits are:

  • Road                    53Lden              45Lnight
  • Rail                      54Lden              44Lnight
  • Aircraft                 45Lden              40Lnight
  • Wind Turbines     45Lden       no recommendation*
  • Leisure                70 LAeq

* WHO felt that there was insufficient evidence to make a recommendation

The guidelines are stricter for air and wind turbine noise because WHO found that people get highly annoyed from these sources at lower levels than for road or rail noise. The benchmark used when recommending the safe thresholds was the level at which 10% of the population became annoyed by a particular noise source. For night noise a lower threshold was used on the basis that sleep disturbance created more serious health problems than annoyance. The night threshold was the level at which 3% of people were “highly sleep-disturbed.”

WHO stressed that, because, in its view, there is not yet enough research to make a recommendation about night noise from wind turbines, it does not mean that they are not causing problems. One of the report’s recommendations is that more wind turbine research is undertaken.

Wind farm and leisure were not covered in previous WHO reports. Leisure noise is harder to define than the other noise sources. WHO broadly defines it as recreational noise, including noise from personal audio devices. In light of existing evidence the WHO recommended that over the course of the year the noise from leisure sources should average out at no more than 70 decibels. It added one important caveat, though: a warning that very high levels of noise at a particular time–for example music at a rock concert–has the potential to damage hearing.

The WHO has made it very clear it does not want its report to sit on shelves gathering dust. It wants it to lead to action and has pointed the way in the report to solutions to reduce the number of people–currently running into hundreds of millions across the world–exposed to unhealthy levels of noise.

The World Health Organisation has done it job. It is over to us now–governments, industries, communities, campaign groups–to make sure we use it to create a quieter and healthier future for everybody.

John Stewart is the lead author of “Why Noise Matters,” published by Earthscan in 2011, and has worked and campaigned in the fields of noise and transport for over 35 years.