Quality of Life

Venture money surges into hearing health treatments

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’ve been watching Dr. Charles Liberman’s company, Frequency Therapeutics, for several years. He’s the physician-researcher who runs Harvard’s Lauer Tinnitus Research Center in Boston and who has published papers starting in 2009 about “hidden hearing loss,” papers that broke open the Congressional log-jam that prevented significant funding going into hearing disorders. His company has raised an eye-popping $228 million in venture capital–that’s a LOT for an early-stage company–and now they’ve gotten approval from the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track trials of their first product.

But Frequency Therapeutics isn’t the only company in this space. I recently saw information at an investor conference showing that another half dozen companies have also raised significant amounts of venture capital for hearing-disorder treatments. Collectively, they’ve raised over a quarter of a billion dollars! That’s extraordinary progress for a long overlooked sector where nothing seemed to happen for decades and where the only treatment option for decades were extraordinarily expensive hearing aids from a handful of powerful companies charging inflated prices no one could afford.

Now there’s an active market and venture capitalists are diving in! That is a real sign of progress!

Thanks are due to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology that in 2016 published a report on the noise-induced hearing loss market, and to the National Academy of Medicine report on hearing loss in America that issued a few months later. Those two reports also led to the bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act that President Trump signed into law in 2018 and that goes in to effect in January 2020. That act, in turn, has created a surge of investment in personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, which are high-tech ‘hearing aids’ you’ll soon be able to buy from your local drug store for 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Change is here!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Will personal music players be the next public health disaster for young people?

Photo credit: Elena Buzmakova(borisova) from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitio

This article in The New York Times details ten years of regulatory dithering while millions of young people became addicted to nicotine through vaping. The health dangers of vaping were clear to many, but political considerations, lawsuits, and perhaps an early lack of clear evidence of harm led to inaction. And now young people, and a few older ones, are being sickened with several dying.

I see a similar situation developing with the widespread use of personal music players by young people.

The Sony Walkman was marketed in 1979, the iPod in 2001, and the now ubiquitous iPhones in 2007 and Androids in 2008. A large number of Americans use personal music players, and surveys find that users listen for several hours a day.  This report citing Nielsen figures says that Americans listen to music 32 hours a week!  That’s 4.5 hours every day. The World Health Organization recommends listening to no more than one hour daily, to prevent hearing loss. Other studies show that some users typically listen to music at high volumes, loud enough to drown out ambient noise.

There has been some media coverage about prolonged exposure to personal music players, but most people don’t seem to be aware of the problem.

I have communicated with the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what I see as a future epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss when today’s young people reach mid-life, after 30-40 years of excessive noise exposure. The CDC has begun a research program into noise and the public and undertaken educational efforts about the dangers of noise on hearing, but as with vaping devices, it’s clear to me that regulatory action is needed and that’s not something CDC does. Education can help change health behaviors, but regulation is much more effective.

Will there be media reports in 2030 or 2040 about the lost opportunity to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.

Unfortunately, then it will be too late to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss. The time for action is now.

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.

In their defense, they just wanted some sleep

Photo credit: M J Richardson licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Angry Edinburgh residents, enraged by unending road work noise, pelted workmen with baked beans, haggis.

While the reaction may seem unwarranted, Stian Alexander, reporting for the Daily Record, writes that the drilling only ends at 11:00 p.m. and the noise continues as work doesn’t end until 3:00 a.m. The bosses at the City of Edinburgh Council are undeterred by the residents protest, however, as the work–and noise–will continue for at least another week.

A revised definition of noise for National Protect Your Hearing Month

Photo credit: Chris Fithall licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, and I am using the occasion to propose a revised definition of noise: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

For many decades, noise has been defined as “unwanted sound,” a phrase usually attributed to the late acoustics pioneer Leo Beranek. The problem with this definition is that it implies that the perception of noise is subjective. This means that those complaining about noise have no real basis for their complaints, other than a personal reaction to noise.

The new definition acknowledges that noise can be harmful to human health and can interfere with human activity. Even if a noise is merely unpleasant, that experience is stressful.  Recent research shows that stress causes vascular inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

The revised definition is supported by my article in the Fall 2019 issue of Acoustics Today, summarizing the evidence-based noise levels affecting human health and function. My article makes it clear that there can be no rational doubt that noise is harmful, and unwanted noise especially so. Sounds as quiet as 30-35 A-weighted decibels (dBA) can disrupt sleep. A good night’s sleep is important for health and function. Forty-five decibel (dB) sound can disrupt concentration and interfere with learning. At 55 dB, non-auditory health impacts of noise begin, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and increased mortality. These effects are best studied for transportation noise, but are seen with occupational noise exposure. At 60 dBA ambient noise, people with hearing loss have difficulty understanding speech. At 70 dBA, those with normal hearing also have difficulty understanding speech.

Seventy dB time-weighted average for 24 hours is the only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss, but the actual safe noise level is probably lower than that. And 85 dBA is the occupational recommended noise exposure level, not a safe noise level for the public. And as I notedin my article, the World Health Organization recommends only one hour exposure at 85 dBA daily to prevent hearing loss. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, this is mathematically the same as 70 dB time-weighted average for a day.

Hearing loss is very common in older people, but I’ve learned that this isn’t part of normal physiological aging. Rather, presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is largely noise-induced hearing loss.

So what can you do to protect your hearing? There are two ways to protect hearing: avoid loud noise, and if you can’t, use hearing protection devices.

We only have two ears, and unlike knees they can’t be replaced. So if a noise sounds too loud, it IS too loud. And if a noise is so loud that one can’t converse without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

And always remember that noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound

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.

New York City tries to deal (again) with nighttime contruction noise

Photo credit: Tomwsulcer has dedicated this photo to the public domain

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

The New York Times reports that the building boom in New York City has been accompanied by a “noise boom,” especially with the increase in overnight work.

A construction boom, given the difficulty of doing construction work in Manhattan, has led to an increase in the number of variances being requested to allow nighttime construction work. Although the New York City Noise Code includes a section pertaining to construction noise rules and regulations, it is the Department of Buildings that oversees the issuance of variances to the Noise Code rules and regulations.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera understands the adverse health impacts of noise. As reported in the New York Times, she has introduced a bill to the City Council that would limit construction work to no earlier than 6 a.m. and no later than 10 p.m. on weekdays, with weekend construction limited to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with some variances allowed for utility and government projects. As to whether this legislation will pass, is a difficult question to answer in a city where developers and the real estate industry have strong political influence.

Ms. Rivera asserted that the Department of Buildings does not have enough employees to review all the permit applications for variances it receives. As a result, it may have issued variances without much consideration about how construction noise would affect those living nearby. There was, sadly, no indication in this story that the Department of Buildings asked for additional staff to more effectively review the applications. The one response from a department spokesman, was that “no one likes construction” but that the after-hours permits were “necessary to a growing city.”  Such a statement appears to be dismissive of the accepted knowledge that noise is hazardous to both mental and physical health.

What is clear in the literature with respect to health and well-being is how dependent our health is on a “good night’s sleep,” something that is certainly being denied to those exposed to the growing New York City nighttime construction noise. Furthermore, a city like New York, proud of its diverse and talented workforce, should also be aware of the fact a loss of sleep can decrease work productivity the next day.

We wish Ms. Rivera success, and a quieter night to all in New York City.

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.

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.

 

Chinese city to ban loud noise on subway

Photo credit: mentatdgt from Pexels

The South China Morning Post reports that the city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, is considering becoming the third Chinese city to ban loud noise on public transportation. Apparently passengers have complained about people talking loudly or playing videos or music at high volume.  Under a proposed provision, violators would receive an “administrative punishment” (no, we don’t know what that means, either) for a breach of the rule. The public was invited to comment on the proposal.

We must admit that the thought of a robust code of behavior for New York City public transportation that would mirror Kunming’s sounds awfully appealing, though the mystery punishment could well exceed the crime. Still, it’s hard not to fantasize about a calm ride home after a typical evening commute marked by loud conversations, sodcasters, and subway “entertainers.”

 

Noise control laws need to be enforced

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This editorial from the Toronto Sun makes the point that well-written noise control laws are worthless unless they are enforced.

We agree.

For a variety of reasons, noise control laws are rarely enforced. The noise is often intermittent, and has already stopped by the time enforcement officers arrive. Police officers don’t like to enforce noise control laws.  Depending on how the law is written, enforcement may require sound level meters which they claim they don’t know how to use, or which may not be calibrated to standards that will hold up in court. Low staffing levels for other enforcement officers, e.g., from a Department of Building and Safety, mean that someone may investigate a complaint days or weeks after it is filed, by which time the noise has long since dissipated.

For me the answer is simple: follow the example of Santa Monica, Callifornia, which uses crowd-sourced citizen reporting of leaf blower violations.

We suggest the folks in Toronto implement a system like the one in Santa Monica.  It works.

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 Japan really the world’s noisiest country?

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

If you’ve been to Japan, you’re likely as astonished as I am to learn that the World Health Organization recently reported Japan to be the world’s noisiest country.

Chiara Terzuolo, Japan Today, writes:

[T]he WHO recommends avoiding being exposed to noise over 53 decibels. The legal average limit in Japan is about 70, a number based on data 50 years out of date, according to Prof Matsui of Hokkaido University who spoke about the problem in an NHK feature on noise pollution in Japan.

Personally, I found major cities in Japan, like Tokyo and Hiroshima, much quieter (and more polite) than American cities like New York or Chicago. And their bullet-train stations are eerily quiet—the trains make NO noise at all, the station PA system speaks in polite whispers, and there are white-gloved attendants around urging people to stand back from the tracks because you might not notice an arriving train. So if Japan is noisy, I don’t remember it that way at all.

In fact, Japan and other Asian nations, like Korea, are far ahead of the U.S. in adopting and enforcing ‘quiet’ ordinances. Visiting there, I’ve seen noise barriers around highways that are 65 feet tall and they’re better at blocking noise from radiating into nearby neighborhoods and more attractive than the crude prison-like fences installed along U.S. highways by the Department of Transportation at a cost of millions of dollars per mile.

Nevertheless, if the World Health Organization’s report is right, it’s interesting proof that noise pollution is a very difficult problem to solve, as difficult as smog and second-hand smoke.

If that’s the case, then it will be a long, long time before we see much improvement in America—because we’ve barely begun to think about this problem.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Lindbergh Foundation interviews “The Ruth Bader Ginsburg of noise”

Photo credit: Photo credit: Susan Santoro

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Lindbergh Foundation is run by aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, Erik, a prominent and outspoken activist for quieter, more efficient electric aircraft. It was my privilege several years ago to introduce Mr. Lindbergh to The Quiet Coalition co-founder, Dr. Arline Bronzaft, when we invited both to speak at a public outreach workshop on community noise.

If you know anything about Dr. Bronzaft, you know that she is a forthright, courageous, no-nonsense spokesperson who speaks truth to power and is passionately concerned about the effects of noise on people. So we’re thrilled to hear, in this interview, Mr. Lindbergh describe her as “the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of noise.”

Well-deserved and absolutely appropriate. Congratulations, Arline, for a well-deserved compliment! And thank you, Erik Lindbergh, for recognizing the contributions of this remarkable woman!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.