Public health

Is your spin class destroying your hearing?

Photo credit: www.localfitness.com.au licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This could be my shortest blog post ever: In a word, “yes.”

Seriously, the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for the entire day. This is not new information. The 70 decibels safe noise level was calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1974. The World Health Organization reached the same conclusion in 1999, as did the National Institutes of Health in 1990. (The NIH states that the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 75 decibels average for 8 hours, which is the same mathematically as 70 decibels for the day.) And more recently, my analysis of the safe noise level passed editorial muster at two of the worlds leading medical journals, the American Journal of Public Health in 2017 and the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018.

There can be no rational doubt about this number.

Most people think that louder music improves athletic performance, but there is no scientific evidence for this. I have communicated with two of the world’s experts on the effects of music on athletic performance. who both informed me that music may help improve performance in rhythmic activities, e.g., running at a steady pace, but there is no research showing that louder is better.

Those who go to noisy gyms and noisy spin classes have a choice: wear earplugs now, or wear hearing aids later.

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.

It’s surprisingly easy for headphones to damage hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Popular Science discusses noise-induced hearing loss caused by headphone use.

If headphone volume is high enough to block out noise from traffic or others speaking, it’s probably loud enough to cause hearing loss. If you use headphones or earbuds, that’s an important thing to know.

But also know that the sound levels cited in the article by audiologist Tricia Ashby at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association aren’t safe. The 85 A-weighted decibel standard she mentions is an occupational noise exposure standard that even with limited exposure–8 hours a day, 250 days a year at work, for 40 years in the factory–allows 8% of workers to suffer “excess” hearing loss.

Noise is different from other occupational exposures, e.g., toxic solvents or ionizing radiation, because we are exposed to noise all the time, all day long, all year long, for an average whole lifetime now approaching 80 years.

As I wrote in the American Journal of Public Health, the only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for 24 hours. I discussed the reasons why even 70 decibels is probably too loud in this blog post for the AJPH. Well, just two hours exposure to 85 decibel noise makes it mathematically impossible to average below 70 decibels for the day.

Ms. Ashby is correct that a recent study reported a declining prevalence of hearing loss in American adults, but the Centers for Disease Control reported that 25% of American adults have hearing loss, many without any occupational noise exposure.

I have been predicting an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss in young people using headphones, and now the preliminary evidence is beginning to appear in scientific journals.

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.

Don’t be that guy

Photo credit: Ed Dunens licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Andy Simmons, The Reader’s Digest (yes, it still exists!), writes a biting but justified rant about the scourge of suburbia titled, “Why You’re the Worst Person In the World If You Use a Leaf Blower.”

I agree.

There’s sound information among the snippets of bitter humor.

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.

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.

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.

The need for quiet

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, is quoted in this article on one of the quietest places in the world, in today.com. It’s a thoughtful piece about the quietest room in the world, at least at first. But then the story unfolds and we learn about pervasiveness of noise pollution. Dr. Bronzaft, who is on hand to explain the effect of noise on health, notes, that “[y]our body does not get used to dealing with noise; it just adapts to it — but at a physical and mental cost.”

Click the link above to read the entire piece–it’s well worth your time.  For as Dr. Bronzaft points out, we all need a little (or a lot of) peace and quiet.

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.

Noise is bad for children

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One of the nice things about doing a Google search is the serendipity of coming across something else.

I recently saw a mention of a World Health Organization statement that children shouldn’t be exposed to noise above 120 decibels, so I began searching for the source of that statement. While searching, I found this 2009 WHO PowerPoint presentation (pdf) about the adverse health effect of noise on children–not just hearing loss, but hypertension, increases in stress hormone levels, and difficulties learning, among a multitude of other adverse effects. Eventually, I found the 120 decibel recommendation in the WHO 1999 Community Noise Guidelines monograph.

It’s distressing that this information clearly has been known for so long–the pediatric noise hazards for almost a decade, the Community Noise Guidelines for almost two decades—and we still haven’t done anything to protect our children from noise.

With our first grandchild just born, I will renew my efforts to protect children and all people from the dangers of noise. I hope he grows up in a quieter world.

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.

7 reasons to say no to fireworks

Lloyd Alter, the design editor for Treehugger.com, posted his annual rant about the dangers of fireworks.  In short, fireworks are a dangerous and stupid way to celebrate anything, and in exchange for the short-term pleasure of seeing things blow up in the air, here are the long-term consequences of using them:

They spew percholorates, particulates, heavy metals, CO₂ and ozone into the atmosphere, cause over 10,000 injuries a year, are cruel to animals, and can lead to hearing loss.

It’s not fun being a killjoy, but really, are fireworks necessary?