Quiet

What to do if you hear sounds that others do not

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

Finally, David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition, addressed a query from a woman who said she heard a sound in her living space that her partner insists wasn’t there:

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

The Quiet Coalition recently received an inquiry from a woman who said she hears “a nearly imperceptible high-pitched sound” in her living space. She states that she can hear the sound, but her partner insists there is no sound. “Could a smartphone-based sound-meter app isolate and identify this sound?” she asked, adding “if so, which one do you recommend?”

First, I must note that the fact that this woman hears noise but her partner does not means nothing at all. Her partner could simply have much less sensitive hearing!

We at The Quiet Coalition agree that the best step is to try to measure the sound. There are free or inexpensive sound meter apps that you can install on your smartphone, so start there. Some are better than others, but thankfully, experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tested and rated smartphone sound-meter apps, which we reported on last year.

But a smartphone app may not be sensitive enough to pick up the sound. What should you do if this is the case? The only alternative could be to find an acoustics engineer to visit your residence and use professional equipment to identify the noise and then help you identify the source. That person can also suggest some ways to address the problem—which could be a neighbor’s electronics. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants offers advice on how to select a professional, licensed acoustical engineer.

There is, however, another possibility that must be considered: hearing a high-pitched sound that no one else hears COULD mean that you have a hearing disorder called tinnitus or an acute sensitivity to sounds called hyperacusis. Tinnitus can be identified by first finding a truly quiet place, such as a library, or on a weekend retreat in the countryside, to see if you still hear the noise when you are away from the circumstances where you are aware of the sound.

40 million Americans have tinnitus (myself included), so it’s quite common. And many of us spent years assuming that the “background noises” we heard were actually coming from the environment and that everybody heard the same thing!

So we recommend that you pursue both of these steps, because exposure to noise can be stressful, can cause sleep loss, and can have other health effects.
First try to determine where an unseen source of high-pitched sound in your environment is coming from. If the sound cannot be isolated, then consider that the cause of the sound could be tinnitus or another hearing disorder that should be attended to.

Frankly, the best result would be that there really is an unseen source of high-pitched sound in the immediate environment. Why? Because that can be fixed once the source is identified. But tinnitus cannot be cured, though there are techniques for managing it—which include avoiding the kinds of exposures that may have caused it in the first place. And know that the onset of tinnitus can be quite sudden.

To learn more about tinnitus check out the American Tinnitus Association‘s website and the Clinical Practice Guideline for Tinnitus published in 2014 by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

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.

A charming story about community and silence

Photo credit: trolvag licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Dr. Daniel Fink wrote this post about a recording project in Cremona, Italy that required the cooperation and participation of all the residents, and how they all rose to the occasion:

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful article by Max Paradiso in the New York Times describes an ambitious recording project in Cremona, Italy. Paradiso writes that the project aims to digitally record the violins crafted there centuries ago, preserving “the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen.” And to do this, the streets surrounding the auditorium where the recording is taking place must be quiet.

One wishes all cities could make similar efforts.

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 sound of winter

Photo credit: Valdemaras D. from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful essay by Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times discusses the differences between winter in Maine and winter in New York City.

Boylan writes that when she ventures out “on a subzero morning in Maine, it’s the silence that strikes me first.” No doubt it is a sharp contrast with the sound of the city in winter. In fact, Boylan adds, “[t]he most dramatic sound up north is the one that I almost never hear in New York City: the sound of nothing at all.”

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.

On being silent in a noisy world

Photo credit: Robert Aakerman

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I thought that Gal Beckerman’s essay, “The Case for Covering Your Ears in Noisy Times,” would be about the medical and scientific evidence for using hearing protection devices to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. But fortunately I was wrong. The wonderful essay and book review in the New York Times discusses the importance of being silent and of hearing silence in a noisy world.

Not speaking is part of many meditative religious and philosophical traditions, as is enforced silence.

But me? I’m not so extreme.  All I want is a little more 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’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Silent airports on the rise?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This online article discusses the growing movement towards silent airports, which essentially are airports that have adopted limited overhead announcements. I think “quieter airports” would be a more accurate term, but by any name they very welcome.

Travel is stressful enough without being deafened by repeated announcements, most of which are unnecessary, at too high a volume. No one likes to wait for a plane, but the few quieter airports I’ve been in–London Heathrow comes to mind–make waiting much more pleasant.

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.

For the love of sound, a whole city must keep quiet

Photo credit: trolvag licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful article by Max Paradiso in the New York Times describes an ambitious recording project in Cremona, Italy. Paradiso writes that the project aims to digitally record the violins crafted there centuries ago, preserving “the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen.” And to do this, the streets surrounding the auditorium where the recording is taking place must be quiet.

One wishes all cities could make similar efforts.

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 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 noise? Here’s how to find out where it’s coming from

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

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

The Quiet Coalition recently received an inquiry from a woman who said she hears “a nearly imperceptible high-pitched sound” in her living space. She states that she can hear the sound, but her partner insists there is no sound. “Could a smartphone-based sound-meter app isolate and identify this sound?” she asked, adding “if so, which one do you recommend?”

First, I must note that the fact that this woman hears noise but her partner does not means nothing at all. Her partner could simply have much less sensitive hearing!

We at The Quiet Coalition agree that the best step is to try to measure the sound. There are free or inexpensive sound meter apps that you can install on your smartphone, so start there. Some are better than others, but thankfully, experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tested and rated smartphone sound-meter apps, which we reported on last year.

But a smartphone app may not be sensitive enough to pick up the sound. What should you do if this is the case? The only alternative could be to find an acoustics engineer to visit your residence and use professional equipment to identify the noise and then help you identify the source. That person can also suggest some ways to address the problem—which could be a neighbor’s electronics. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants offers advice on how to select a professional, licensed acoustical engineer.

There is, however, another possibility that must be considered: hearing a high-pitched sound that no one else hears COULD mean that you have a hearing disorder called tinnitus or an acute sensitivity to sounds called hyperacusis. Tinnitus can be identified by first finding a truly quiet place, such as a library, or on a weekend retreat in the countryside, to see if you still hear the noise when you are away from the circumstances where you are aware of the sound.

40 million Americans have tinnitus (myself included), so it’s quite common. And many of us spent years assuming that the “background noises” we heard were actually coming from the environment and that everybody heard the same thing!

So we recommend that you pursue both of these steps, because exposure to noise can be stressful, can cause sleep loss, and can have other health effects.
First try to determine where an unseen source of high-pitched sound in your environment is coming from. If the sound cannot be isolated, then consider that the cause of the sound could be tinnitus or another hearing disorder that should be attended to.

Frankly, the best result would be that there really is an unseen source of high-pitched sound in the immediate environment. Why? Because that can be fixed once the source is identified. But tinnitus cannot be cured, though there are techniques for managing it—which include avoiding the kinds of exposures that may have caused it in the first place. And know that the onset of tinnitus can be quite sudden.

To learn more about tinnitus check out the American Tinnitus Association‘s website and the Clinical Practice Guideline for Tinnitus published in 2014 by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

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.

Sounds that soothe in life and near death

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

My research and writings have focused on the effects of noise on mental and physical health. If we are to lessen the adverse impacts of noise on hearing and well-being it would be wise to start by educating children to the dangers of noise. But what about the wonderful sounds around us that we want children to tune into? Shouldn’t we also teach children about the “good” sounds as well as the “bad ones,” named noises?

It was with these thoughts in mind that my children’s book “Listen to the Raindrops” was written and beautifully illustrated by Steven Parton. The title draws children to sounds that are pleasant, as do the lines within the book. But the book also describes the bad sounds that might hurt the delicate ear. The book ends by asking moms, dads, girls, and boys to join together to stop the noise, so that we can forever hear the raindrops fall.

Environmental sounds such as birds singing, breezes, and waves hitting the shore are sounds that individuals seek out to feel relaxed. Quiet areas within cities are being identified by researchers such as Dr. Antonella Radicchi, who believe such areas will be sought out and protected by people who look to these “urban oases” of quiet so that they can listen to the natural sounds they enjoy to hear. She also conducts soundwalks through these areas.

Thus, it was my background in trying to protect our natural sounds and to lessen the din in our environment that drew me to the New York Times piece “In Life’s Last Moments, Open the Window.” Rachel Clarke, a British physician, wrote the article to describe how much comfort patients close to the end of life get from the “sheer vitality” of nature. Dr. Clarke learned that a blackbird’s song can’t stop disease but it can offer comfort. In life I long knew that natural sounds bring us contentment, but after reading this article I now know that near death we seek the peace these sounds bring to us.

But just as we are fighting the intrusion of noises that are robbing us of our ability to tune into natural sounds, I fear that these same noises will rob us of the comfort of these natural sounds as we lay dying. How many urban hospitals can open up windows to allow the gentle breezes and the chirping birds to be heard? I would hope that Dr. Clarke’s article reaches the attention of architects and designers who may be able to bring small gardens to urban hospitals and to public officials who will use their offices to lessen overall outdoor noises so that these will not drown out the natural sounds so desired by those hoping to open a window as they lie in bed facing the end of life.

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.