Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Au revoir, les noisy frogs

Photo credit: Egor Kamelev from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian reports that in the Dordogne region of France, a judge ruled that homeowners must drain their pond to eliminate noisy frogs bothering their neighbors. On one side of the matter is a useful habitat for local fauna, and on the other a very tired neighbor.

The problem is that during mating season, the frogs’ calls have been measured at 63 decibels (dB) at the neighbors’ window. Sound pressure levels as low as 30-35 A-weighted decibels* can disrupt sleep. The decibel scale is logarithmic, so 63 dB isn’t just twice as loud as 31.5 dB but orders of magnitude greater. (I would also note that in psychoacoustics the word loudness has specific meaning, and here I am just using it as we use it in everyday speech.)

The situation is complicated by the fact that some of the frogs belong to endangered species, and the small pond serves as a local watering hole for other animals, including deer and wild boar.

Nature lovers are concerned, and the case is being appealed to France’s highest court. Keep an eye here to find out how it ends.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

When hearing aids don’t work

Photo credit: ikesters licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

Many people with hearing difficulties delay getting help because they’re told hearing aids don’t work. But in my experience, properly fitted hearing aids can improve communication and quality of life for people with hearing difficulties.

Hearing aids are worn on each ear and come in different styles. Prescription hearing aids are selected so amplified sound and chosen features are best for all shapes and sizes of hearing difficulties in all ages. Retail hearing aids are meant for adults with mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss which is a common pattern across causes.

There are different reasons people think hearing aids don’t work. Some issues depend on the hearing aids, while others depend on the person wearing them. Unless there is a health reason that requires that they only wear one, it’s best to get a pair. Like ears, hearing aids should be in pairs for best sound audibility, localization, and communication.

Were the hearing aids fit by a hearing healthcare professional? If yes, then they were chosen to work based on individual testing results and the person’s reported difficult listening situations in daily life. Retail hearing aids won’t work if the wearer doesn’t have mild to moderate high pitch hearing loss.

Do the hearing aids have basic hearing and communication features? Basic or entry level prescription or retail hearing aids should include directional microphones for paired hearing benefits and a telecoil or hearing loop feature. Hearing aids without directional microphones won’t work well in daily life, and hearing aids without hearing loop compatibility won’t work in settings offering disability access.

Do the hearing aids offer modern digital technology? Current entry level features in behind the ear hearing aids, which start at around $1,000 per pair, include more than one listening program for quieter and noisier environments and wireless connectivity to other devices. Some hearing aids include sound therapy for people with tinnitus or decreased sound tolerance, i.e., hyperacusis. Many now have rechargeable batteries with an overnight recharging station which is a plus for convenience and the environment. Old technology hearing aids don’t work nearly as well as modern technology aids.

Were the hearing aids properly manufactured? Even brand new hearing aids can be lemons. While prescription hearing aid manufacturers typically meet international amplification acoustics standards, quality control is voluntary for manufacturers selling directly to the public with no Food and Drug Administration oversight in the U.S. Problems are common even among popular retail manufacturers, with defect rates of 100% for amplification under $150 and 66% defective when under $500 per hearing aid. New amplification sound quality problems include static and distortion, over-amplified or too loud, no high frequency amplification, broken volume control, malfunctioning directional microphones, and faulty telecoils. In my opinion, too many hearing aids sold directly to the public are poorly made and don’t work as advertised.

Does the wearer have hearing system distortion? Some people, especially with a history of noise exposure, have hearing loss with sound processing damage where sound becomes distorted or unclear while travelling up the hearing nerves to the brain. This happens after sound is amplified, meaning people feel their hearing aids don’t work because they still can’t hear or converse easily, especially in ambient environmental noise environments.

Are the hearing aids In-The-Drawer style? ITD style hearing aids worn only seldom or occasionally don’t help much. People with hearing loss need to practice hearing amplified sound again in their daily life. With regular use, people hear better with amplification than without, even in noisy or difficult listening situations.

The next time somebody says hearing aids don’t work, don’t forget there is often more to the story. Did the person get well manufactured hearing aids that meet their individual hearing and communication needs? Do they have realistic expectations of hearing aids? If not, a visit to a hearing healthcare professional could be helpful for problem-solving and guidance.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

Do new sound control products work as good as they look?

Photo courtesy of abstracta

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

It’s wonderful to see architects, designers and manufacturers developing attractive ways to address noisy homes and offices! But it’s important to note that architects and designers know little or nothing about acoustics at all—they’ve never been taught it. So the products they develop are often simply visual barriers that have very little acoustical effect.

Sound, like water, will leak through any hole on a surface, so no matter how thick a product is if you’re on one side and a noise-making person or piece of equipment
is on the other, you are definitely going to hear what’s going on!

You can also buy sound curtains–you can find a selection by running a simple internet search. Typically they’re made for industrial settings where exposure to loud noise is actually regulated by OSHA. So many sound curtains may not be very attractive, unless they are covered with a cosmetic treatment like another layer of fabric.

If you are interested in buying sound control products, be sure to ask what the sound rating is of any designer sound screen or curtain. Because if the designer and/or manufacturer haven’t bothered to have their product tested by a licensed testing lab, their product is probably not going to be very effective.

Please note that the European Union, where noise is regarded as a health hazard, puts noise level labels on 50 classes of products ranging from dishwashers and food blenders to power tools and construction equipment. But Americans never see those labels because they aren’t included on products entering the US. Why? There is staunch and powerful resistance among American manufacturers to making noise ratings available to the public. This is an old battle. In the 1980s, several major industries fought back against the EPA, which was required by the Noise Control Act of 1972 to publish noise ratings. Result: they’ve never done so.

In fact, that may be a good a reason to buy products that are manufactured by EU companies, because you can get noise ratings from their corporate websites.

Caveat emptor!

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.

How to make virtual meetings more accessible for the hearing impaired

Photo credit: Anna Shvets from Pexels

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

Virtual meetings have become the standard during the pandemic and participants have reported that at times it is difficult hearing others because their microphones are cutting in and out. But for the hearing impaired, virtual meetings are even more challenging because they often rely on reading lips to assist them in hearing what has been said and they find it more difficult to lip read during virtual meetings, according to this recent article.

Capital One has addressed the problem of hearing other participants in Zoom calls by employing a computer assisted real-time translation that enables all participants to read real time audio transcripts of what is being said at these meetings. One can readily find live transcription offers for Zoom on the internet. The post notes that many people working from home actually find it difficult to hear others during vitual meetings because of noises in their homes and, thus, the visual translation is proving beneficial for all people on these calls.

There are also other suggestions about how Zoom meetings can be made easier for people with hearing loss, e. g., sending out agendas for meetings ahead of time, sharing documents to be discussed before the meetings. Again, these suggestions will be appreciated by all the virtual meeting attendees.

I have found that generally making adjustments for people with disabilities, whether they be physical, auditory, or visual, usually benefits a larger body of individuals. For example, lowering the step on buses for individuals who cannot climb up the higher step, e. g. elderly individual, person with a cane, is also helpful to the mother who is entering the bus with her three-year old or the individual who is carrying heavy packages. And lowering the decibel level of music in restaurants not only benefits individuals with hearing deficits but is generally welcomed by all diners who find it easier to converse in quieter environments.

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.

American Institute of Physics celebrates the International Year of Sound

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we wrote a year ago, 2020 is the International Year of Sound (IYS) a “global initiative to highlight the importance of sound and related sciences and technologies for all in society.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the IYS has been extended into 2021.

The American Institute of Physics in the December 2020 issue of its journal Physics Today celebrates IYS with five articles and an insightful editorial by Charles Day, PhD. The AIP is the parent organization of a publication of the Acoustical Society of America and nine other scientific societies.

Along with Physics Today, the Acoustical Society’s journal Acoustics Today published a special issue celebrating IYS. Both sets of articles are a little wonky to a non-acoustician, but I liked the first article in Physics Today, “Exploring cultural heritage through acoustical reconstructions.” I didn’t know that it was possible to reconstruct sounds of historic buildings which have been damaged or destroyed.

Another ASA publication, Acoustics Today, also had a special issue celebrating IYS.

As 2020 comes to a close, if you have spare time during the recently imposed lockdowns, these special issues of Physics Today or Acoustics Today will give you a glance at some of the “hot topics” in acoustical science and noise control.

Best wishes for a joyful holiday season, perhaps with Zoom family get-togethers, and a healthy, happy, peaceful, and quiet New Year.

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.

I can’t hear myself think!

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Most of us are familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary as the worldwide arbiter of English language words–“the definitive record of the English language,” it humbly boasts–even if we use the Merriam-Webster dictionary in the U.S. But it turns out that there’s also a Cambridge Dictionary. And the Cambridge Dictionary publishes a blog about about words. The blog’s name: “About Words,” and in the December 2, 2020, post they tackled “interesting ways of saying ‘noisy.'” As writer Liz Walter notes, the word loud is itself neutral, but noisy almost implies that the sound is unreasonable or annoying.

The standard definition of noise, which I have traced back to a committee of the Acoustical Society of America in the early 1930s, is “noise is unwanted sound.” That definition has been enshrined in the definitions of the American National Standards Institute, and cited by authorities like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, among many others.

Of course, I prefer my new definition of noise, “noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.”  After all, even wanted sound, such as that at a rock concert or motorsports event, can be harmful. Just calling noise “unwanted sound” also communicates a value judgment about those complaining about loud sound, implying that those who complain must have something wrong with them, being overly sensitive, neurotic, radical environmentalists, or busybodies who want to interfere with someone else’s enjoyment of loud music or motorcycles with modified exhaust pipes.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that regardless of which formal definition one uses, or with other words or phrases one uses to describe it, noise is sound energy and noise causes auditory damage.

As I often say, if it sounds loud, it’s too loud. Avoid loud noise or insert earplugs now, or need hearing aids later.

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 Soundproofist podcast looks at leaf blower noise

Photo credit: Timothy Valentine licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two Quiet Coalition co-founders, Jamie Banks, MS, PhD, and David M. Sykes, are currently featured on the most recent Soundproofist podcast. The podcast focuses on leaf blower noise and what can be done about it. Listen here:

Meanwhile The Quiet Coalition’s Dr. Arline Bronzaft was featured recently on the Freakonomics radio show and podcast, which you can listen to here:

The Quiet Coalition is thrilled to be reaching new listeners.

How to help protect teens’ hearing while at school

Photo credit: Thomas Cizauskas licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Our friends at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health recently released data on the use of personal hearing protection among young people at loud school events, such as sports events or band practice. There are probably fewer in-person events at schools these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic with most students learning remotely, but some school districts still have sports events and with the forthcoming availability of vaccine, school will return to normal eventually.

The CDC found that 46.5% of teenage students are regularly exposed to loud sound at school but almost none are given information about hearing protection or hearing protection devices.

Please help CDC spread the word. Forward this information to teachers, school administrators, boards of education, and others responsible for educating our students.

And if you have teenage children or grandchildren, forward this to them, too.

Noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable. Tell them, ‘Wear earplugs now, or need hearing aids later.”

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 human-made noise affects animals

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

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

As I have written in previous posts, human-made noises have not only adversely affected the health and well being of people, but these noises also affect the well being of many species with whom we share this planet. Human-made noise forces the increased volume of urban bird calls, resulting in stress to some species, and deep-sea mining interests may have disrupted the lives of sea creatures for many years to come.

In her article for Psychology Today, Mary Bates informs us that noise pollution may hamper the communication of animals, “from insects to frogs to birds,” and this may have “potential consequences for mate attraction, territory defense and parent-offspring communication.” In support, she cites a new paper that reported the findings of a large number of studies that examined the impact of “anthropogenic noise,” or noise pollution, on animal communication. These studies found that animals had to make adjustments as a result of noise intrusions, and such adjustments could intrude on their existence. For example, when females had to call louder to attract males, these louder calls also attracted more predators, endangering the very lives of these animals.

The authors of the paper, Hansjoerg Kunc, Queen’s University Belfast, and his colleague Rouven Schmidt, conclude that it is essential for us to track noise pollution because the knowledge gained in such tracking will “ultimately determine the health of both ecosystems and organisms, including humans.” By including humans in this warning, they are cautioning us to protect our natural soundscapes not only to protect other species but ourselves as well.

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.

A COVID silver lining? Mask use in Korea reveals hearing loss

Photo credit: Jens-Olaf Walter licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from The Korea Biomedical Review notes that mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic is making many Koreans recognize that they have hearing loss. We all use facial expressions and gestures to help us understand what others are saying, and many people unconsciously lip read as well. But when we are wearing masks, awareness of facial expression is limited to the eyes and forehead and it’s impossible to lip read, so we are left dependent only on our hearing to understand what others are saying.

South Korea had an effective government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, involving universal mask wearing, social distancing, an early testing program, and effective contact tracing with isolation of infected individuals. Thanks to these efforts, according to WorldOMeter South Korea has had only 667 cases of COVID-19 per million population and only 10 deaths per million population.

In contrast, in the U.S., the lack of an effective national response has led to 41,444 cases per million and 823 deaths per million.

To use absolute numbers, which may be easier for some to understand, the population of South Korea is approximately 51 million and that of the United States 330 million. Using an adjustment factor of 7, which actually overstates the adjustment for the respective population sizes, South Korea has had 34,652 cases of COVID-19 and 526 deaths. If South Korea had as many people as the United States, it would have had 242,564 cases of COVID-19, and 3682 deaths. The U.S. has unfortunately had almost 14 million cases and almost 275,000 deaths. The difference in case and death numbers is due to almost universal mask wearing in South Korea.

But universal mask wearing in South Korea made it hard for those with hearing loss to understand what others were saying, because they were deprived of the visual cues associated with speech.

And according to Prof. Moon Il-jung in the Otorhinolaryngology Department at Samsung Medical Center, more patients are coming to the hospital to receive hearing tests, with hearing aids prescribed for those who have hearing loss.

And that may be a rare silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud.

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.