Public health

Will kids face an epidemic of hearing loss?

Photo credit: Jonas Mohamadi from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interview of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb discusses an unprecedented epidemic of vaping among teens. According to the FDA Commissioner and the Surgeon General, the epidemic caught public health authorities by surprise.

Use of personal music players, with associated headphones or earbuds, is also very common among teens. About 90% of teens have a personal music player of one sort or another. An article last year reported found auditory damage among 14% of Dutch schoolchildren age 9-11 who used personal music players. One might call this an epidemic of personal music player use.

It takes about 40 years of noise exposure for noise-induced hearing loss to become clinically apparent, so when today’s young people are in their 40s to 50s, they will likely be as hard of hearing as today’s people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Since 2015, I have been trying to get those federal agencies responsible for protecting the public–the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission–to take action to protect young people’s hearing. I’ve also communicated with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which educates parents about the dangers of sun exposure and tobacco smoke, but not about noise.

I’m going to add the Surgeon General to my list. A predecessor issued a Call to Action about skin cancer, but no one has said anything about noise in more than 50 years.

So far my appeals have largely been ignored.

So the question is this: Will there be an unprecedented epidemic of hearing loss in children and teens when they get older? And will those charged with protecting Americans’ health remember that they were warned?

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 background music a human rights violation?

Guildford Arms, a Quiet Scotland approved pub | Photo credit: alljengi licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It is according to Quiet Scotland, writes Tony Diver, The HeraldQuiet Scotland describes itself as “an informal group of Scottish residents who campaign for freedom from unwanted background music in cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, GPs’ surgeries, hospital waiting rooms, and other public places.” Diver tells us that Quiet Scotland began in 2012 and has around 200 members. It’s goal is simple–to persuade restaurants and retail establishments to shut off the background music.

To encourage businesses, and help those who just want to eat and shop in a quiet space, the group maintains a list of music-free places in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland’s biggest cities. The group is also asking the general public to help out, by offering feedback cards that allow customers to rate spaces based on how loud they are.

As Anne Wellman, the group’s treasurer explained, they started out as a branch of Pipedown, an English organization. But since piped music has a different meaning in Scotland, they soon changed the name to Quiet Scotland “because everybody who joined intensely dislikes background music played in public places.” Says Wellman, “[t]hink of the types of music you don’t like, and then have that blasted at you when you’re trying to eat. Because that’s mostly the case.”

Wellman adds that loud background music is not just annoying. Rather, for people who have a medical condition like tinnitus, autism, or hearing loss, background music is actively distressing. And for them, she suggests, “disability legislation designed to protect those with medical conditions from discrimination could be applied to the loudness of music in public places.”

While some may scoff, Wellman compares Quiet Scotland’s actions to anti-smoking campaigns in the past. “There was a point at which that was laughed at, and then it reached a tipping point when people actually started to agree,” she said.

 

 

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.

The ugly truth about delivery drones

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

We have written about why we think wide scale use of delivery drones will not happen here, here, here, and here.  And now we have to repeat ourselves, as we share a recent report by Mariella Moon, Engadget, about how Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, can’t unleash its delivery drones onto the world until it remedies “one of the biggest complaints about it first.” The complaint, of course, is that the drones are noisy.  Moon writes that people who live “directly under the drones’ path in rural Australia where they’re current being tested described the sound they make as ‘chainsaw gone ballistic.'”

Really? Surely a small drone can’t be that horrible? Except it’s not just one drone, it’s a fleet of drones, and yes, it is horrible. Moon writes:

Apparently, the machines create so much noise that people don’t even use their yards anymore. In addition, dog owners are avoiding areas where they pass, because the drones make their dogs nervous. Not to mention, the noise could trigger PTSD symptoms in military veterans.

So Wing is going to try to make a quieter drone. In the meantime, it is slowing down the drones and trying to vary the flight paths so that they don’t continue to enrage the poor souls who live near their testing facility. Fortunately for the rest of us, Moon notes that “it’s going to take a while” before Wing can design that mythical quiet drone.

Meanwhile we wonder what compelling need is being served by drone delivery. Sure, being able to deliver life saving medicine to a remote location would be fabulous, but let’s be realistic, most drones are going to deliver consumer goods or fast food and the drones are meant to reduce human labor costs and encourage impulse buying. That is, there is no compelling need. It’s all just a lot of noise.

 

The sound of silence

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Penelope Green, The New York Times, writes about using a sound machine to mask nighttime noise for better sleep. In her article she cites a definition of noise that I like and will probably use it again. “Noise,” writes Green, “is defined as unwanted sounds that could have negative psychological and physiological effects.

Green discusses using white noise to mask unwanted sounds that might disrupt sleep. But while that might help with sleep, it’s not clear that white noise is without health consequences itself.

Humans and our primate and vertebrate ancestors evolved in quiet. As Green notes, the perception of sound is a warning mechanism. It allowed us to detect predators or a hungry baby.

I have measured nighttime noise levels near 30 A-weighted decibels (dBA) in remote areas of Wales and Sri Lanka. (A-weighting adjusts measured sound for the frequencies heard in human speech.) That’s at the low end of the noise range from 30-35 dBA where sounds begin to disrupt sleep.

Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid nighttime noise in urban settings, but, as mentioned in the article, even natural sounds from frogs and other animals in rural settings can disturb the listener. Which is unfortunate, because achieving quiet to allow sleep, rather than relying on sound masking devices or apps, is probably better for our 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.

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.

 

Help for those bothered by airplane noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes a new tool, the Airnoise button, developed to help people report airplane noise. Airplane noise has always been a problem, but airplane noise has been exacerbated by the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen program, which uses satellite navigation to guide airplanes on more precise approach paths to their destinations. NextGen increases fuel efficiency and allows closer spacing of planes, but it also concentrates airplane noise over smaller areas. The complaints about the NextGen noise problem has been covered in these pages and in many newspaper reports from around the country.

Due to a phenomenon called “regulatory capture,” the FAA appears more concerned about the profits of the airplane manufacturers, airline companies, and airports than about the health and well-being of the Americans under the flight paths. And the FAA believes airplane noise is “just a nuisance,” even though it has been shown to be a risk factor for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and death.

One of the things government officials say when confronted about a problem is that “nobody ever complained.” But people are complaining about airplane noise, so the FAA’s response, as noted in the Los Angeles Times article, has been to attribute a large number of complaints to a handful of people. And the FAA might have a point, but the agency fails to acknowledge that their cumbersome procedures make it difficult for people to complain. After all, most people have more important things to do in their busy lives than to hunt down the right online form and file a complaint every time a plane flies over their house.

But the FAA may have to come up with a different excuse soon, as Airnoise makes it simple and easy to file airplane noise complaints–just one simple click of the Airnoise proprietary button, or a click on the Airnoise smartphone app, and your complaint is on its way.

I hope all affected by aircraft noise will use Airnoise to file complaints, so that the FAA and congressional committees that govern and fund them can no longer pretend that only a handful of people are concerned about aviation noise.

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.

Do we have a right to live in a quiet community?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Do people have a right to live in a quiet community? Trevor Hancock, of the Times Colonist, thinks so, and so do I.

Hancock’s article discusses community noise, and highlights The Quiet Coalition’s Antonella Radicchi, PhD, who spoke in November 2018 at the Acoustical Society of America’s meeting in Victoria, BC, Canada, about her Hush City app.

In the U.S., the Noise Control Act of 1972 “establishes a national policy to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”

The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked by Congress with the responsibility to make this happen. Unfortunately, in the Reagan era Congress defunded EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control, and the country has gotten much noisier since then.

But it is now clearly known that noise is a health and public health hazard, causing hearing loss and other auditory disorders and non-auditory disorders including heart disease, stroke, and death.

We hope this knowledge will empower the public to demand quiet, just as the knowledge that secondhand smoke was a health hazard empowered the public to demand smoke free spaces.

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.

Embracing stillness

NBC Left Field interviews Steve Orfield, owner/operator of an anechoic chamber that the Guinness Book of World Records once named as “the quietest place on earth.”  Orfield talks about the importance of silence, noting that “the more perceptual stimulus you have, the less you are able to think clearly.” In the end, Orfield observes that we spend most of our energy trying to entertain ourselves until we go to bed, and concludes “if you look at all the things we spend money on and all the things we think we need, what’s the cost of peace?”

It’s a fascinating interview and well worth your time:

Is Your Noise Making Me Fat?

Photo credit: Yukari

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

Is your noise making me fat?  That may seem like a silly question to ask, but there is strong scientific evidence that traffic noise causes obesity.  More specifically, increased traffic noise–whether from highways, airplanes, or trains–is strongly correlated with central obesity.  Central obesity (or “truncal obesity”) is in turn linked with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac disease leading to increased mortality.

Why would noise cause obesity?  The auditory system evolved from vibration sensing mechanisms in primitive organisms which were used to sense predators, or by predators to find food.  Noise perception remains a major warning system, even in mammalian species.  Except for fish, most animals above the phylum Insecta close their eyes when they sleep but cannot close their ears, except for some which swim or dig.  Noise at levels not loud enough to cause hearing loss in humans interferes with sleep, causing a rise in stress hormone levels. These in turn alter carbohydrate and fat metabolism, leading to fat deposition. And that can cause diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn cause heart disease.

A study published in 2015 showed a clear association between noise exposure and central obesity.  Another study published that year showed that noise caused increased heart disease and death.

And 100 million Americans are exposed to noise levels loud enough to cause these problems.

There is probably nothing specific about traffic noise that makes it more likely to cause health problems than any other source of noise, except, perhaps, the factor of unanticipated noise may be important.  It’s just easier to study the effects of traffic noise on humans than asking thousands of people to use personal sound monitors for long periods of time and then collecting and analyzing those data.  Noise is noise.

It’s obviously difficult to measure the non-auditory health impacts of everyday noise exposure–in the streets, in restaurants and stores, at sports events, at concerts–on an individual, but noise has powerful physiologic effects.

So as both noise levels and obesity levels rise in the United States, the answer to the question, “Is YOUR noise making ME fat?” may be “Yes!”

What can we do? For those living near highways, airports, or railroad tracks, double pane windows and wall and attic insulation may provide some protection.  But the best approach to noise is to limit it at its source, which will require political pressure to get laws passed to require quiet, especially nighttime quiet.

After the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded 35 years ago (pdf), noise is largely a local government issue.  So if you want change, you have to speak up for yourself.  One easy step is to look at your local government’s website to see if noise is identified as a constituent issue.  If not, contact your local government representative and ask to speak to him or her about noise problems in your neighborhood or around your workplace.  In addition, an internet search should reveal whether your community has a group that is organized to fight noise in your town (click this link for a map of noise activist and quiet advocacy organizations).  Find out if they are active and go to a meeting to see what they are doing.  If politicians see that an issue is important to constituents, it is in their best interest to address that issue it they want to be re-elected.  If they ignore it, they can be replaced.  An active constituency ensures a responsive politician, at least on the local level.

Noise is omnipresent and insidious.  Because it’s everywhere, people assume that it must be tolerated and cannot be regulated.  But when air pollution became so noticeable and obviously unhealthy that it couldn’t be ignored, government responded with forceful legislation.  As a result, our air is cleaner today than it was in 1970America has gotten noisier and hearing loss in on the increase.  As with air pollution, we need robust government action to regulate noise.  If you care about your health and the health of your family, push back against noise, demand action, and join your neighbors to promote a peaceful, quiet, and healthy 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’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.