Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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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.

It is a matter of life or death

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from Business Standard states that secondhand noise is a problem but isn’t a matter of life or death.

That may be the only statement I disagree with in it.

The hearing sense evolved from a primitive vibration sense that single cell organisms used to find food or to avoid being eaten. Exquisitely sensitive hearing was important to survival. Other than a few marine mammals that can close their ears, mammals including humans evolved no protection against loud noise.

In the 1980s research in animal models and in humans showed that noise has major involuntary physiological stress impacts on mammals, including humans, such as faster heart rate, high blood pressure, and increases in stress hormone levels.

More recent epidemiology studies, using advanced statistical techniques and the processing power of modern computers, shows that noise causes hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and increased death rates. This is not new information and it is not a secret. The scientifically inclined may want to read these two excellent review articles on environmental noise pollution in the U.S. and auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health. These health impacts are small for each person exposed to excess noise, but have a large population health impact because of the hundreds of millions–if not billions–of people affected.

It’s long past time for the public to demand quieter cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, and trains, and for those sworn to protect the public–elected officials and public health authorities–to take action to make the world quiet.

After all, it’s still national policy (in the Noise Control Act of 1972) to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and well-being.

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 as a weapon

 

Twenty former and current tenants are suing their landlord for using “relentless, noisy construction that exposed them to cancer-causing dust as part of a campaign to get rent-stabilized tenants out and high-priced luxury condo buyers in.” The landlord in question? Kushner Companies. Yes, that Kushner.

Anyone living in New York City knows that certain unscrupulous landlords employ tactics to force rent stabilized tenants out of apartments that are then quickly renovated and rented out at much higher market rates.  Among the weapons used to drive tenants from the buildings is noise. In this case, tenants “described hammering and drilling so loud it drowned out normal conversation,” along with rats running through walls, and never-ending dust that covered everything. Unfortunately, these horrific practices are rote with certain landlords, as they do everything they can to make life so miserable for tenants living in rent stabilized apartments that the tenants see no other option but to leave.  Hence the dust, the commotion, and the soul-crushing noise.

We hope the tenants suing Kushner Co. win and are generously compensated for the hell they were put through.

The use of sound in medicine

Photo credit: Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Sound has medical uses. Music therapy has been used for decades, as has diagnostic ultrasound, e.g., echocardiography, gallbladder, and kidney ultrasound, and therapeutic ultrasound has been used in physical therapy.

Now, this report from NPR discusses the use of focused sound waves to ablate damaged brain tissue, relieving a farmer of a trembling hand.

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.

Caterpillars hate noise too

 

Photo credit: Virginia Arboretum licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Erica Tennenhouse, Scientific American, writes about new research that shows traffic noise makes caterpillars’ hearts beat faster. Eventually, the article notes, the caterpillars become desensitized to the noise, but that comes at a price. Andy Davis, conservation physiologist at the University of Georgia, tells Tennenhouse that:

[The] desensitization could be problematic when the caterpillars become adults, Davis says. A rapid stress response is vital for monarch butterflies on their two-month journey to spend winters in Mexico, as they narrowly escape predators and fight wind currents. “What I think is happening [on roadsides] is their stress reactions get overwhelmed when they’re larvae and [could be] impaired when they travel to Mexico,” Davis says.

Every living thing is getting stressed out by our noise.

 

Can preventing hearing loss now prevent dementia later?

Photo credit: Monica McGivern licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We have written about this report before but important news bears repeating: A study using functional MRI techniques found that relatively young people with very mild hearing loss were using parts of their brain not normally used to try to understand speech. The researchers think that this added stress on the brain now may lead to an increased rate of dementia later.

The relationship between hearing loss and dementia is being studied in many ways. It has long been known that there was a correlation between hearing loss and dementia, with studies showing that people with worse hearing are more likely to develop dementia.

And one large study is trying to see if giving hearing aids to older people with hearing loss prevents dementia.

But it’s a whole lot easier–both a whole lot better, and a whole lot cheaper–to just avoid hearing loss by avoiding loud noise now. Hearing loss, after all, is not an inevitable part of aging.

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.

Let’s not forget that we share this planet

 

Nancy Lawson, writing for The Humane Society of America, says “let’s go make some quiet” and help out wildlife. Lawson introduces us to Christine Hass, an ecologist at a wildlife sanctuary, who was recovering from painful eye surgery. Closing her eyes suddenly made her aware of the birdsong she had mostly ignored and she became drawn to soundscape ecology, “a growing area of scientific inquiry that examines interactions of wild voices and other sounds throughout ecosystems.”

These ecosystems are under attack, sadly, as Lawson, citing Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, notes that “[a]bout every 30 years, our collective cacophony doubles, outpacing population growth.” Lawson says “[m]itigating noise is critical to conservation efforts, yet it often takes a back seat to other issues, largely because we’ve forgotten how to listen.”

And, perhaps, because it’s harder for us to measure the effect of human noise on wildlife because we can not visualize it. Says Les Blomberg, founder of the nonprofit Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, “[i]f we could see noise, it would be McDonald’s wrappers thrown out of the car all the way down the highway.”

Lawson ends her piece with suggestions that we can follow to be kinder to the living things that share our space, like replacing gas-powered lawn equipment with electric models, contacting groups like quietcommunities.org for advice on how to talk about noise in your community, and, importantly, by tuning in to your personal soundscape.