Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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6 in 10 workers complain about workplace distraction

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

And what are the biggest culprits?  No surprise: noisy talkers, loud recreation, and open concept offices.

The article linked above references a study that was conducted in Canada, but there’s no reason to suspect that the experience of U.S. workers is any different.  In the end, any savings in real estate expense must be outweighed by lost productivity due to noisy, distracting environments.

But is the productivity loss measureable? If yes, is it significant?

Yes and yes. According to a survey by coworking company iQ Offices, fighting distractions leads to “up to two hours per day of lost productivity.”

Two hours per day per employee.  It adds up.

 

Nature’s sounds calm urban anxiety

Photo credit: Gabriela Palai from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this personal essay, printed in the Washington Post, writer Paige Towers discusses how New York City’s noise worsened her anxiety, but a move to Milwaukee, where nature’s quiet was more accessible, helped her regain her calm.

Some people claim to love urban noise. New York City is famously “the city that never sleeps.” But its noise is loud enough to cause hearing loss and for many people, noise is stressful.

In Japan, doctors can prescribe nature therapy, which they call forest bathing.

But you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to go out and enjoy nature’s quiet on your own. Try it!

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.

David Owen’s “Volume Control” gains attention

Photo credit: Nicholas Githiri from Pexels

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

New Yorker writer David Owen’s new book, “Volume Control,” continues to attract attention. On Friday, February 7, National Public Radio’s Kara Miller interviewed Owen on her show “Innovation Hub” (look for the episode “Can you hear me now?” in the link above).

Last November 5th, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Owen about his new book on “Fresh Air.” If you haven’t picked up a copy, do so–or tell your library to buy several copies because it’s in demand. Owen’s interview with Kara Miller begins by Owen describing Dr. Arline Bronzaft’s landmark research on the impacts of noise on kids’ ability to learn in Manhattan in the 1970s, a piece of research that led to an ANSI national standard and broad awareness of learning deficits. That was a true success during the brief period in the 1970s before noise was “pushed off the table” by industries that didn’t want to be bothered and a U.S. president who, though hearing-impaired himself, didn’t think the issue merited national attention.

Now it’s back. Owen’s book is one of a string of popular books that have emerged over the past decade on this subject: George Prochnik’s well-reviewed book “In Pursuit of Silence” (2010) became a successful documentary film with the same title in 2015. Garrett Keizer’s 2010 book “The Unwanted Sound Of Everything We Want” got excellent reviews in 2012. And also in 2012, the book “Why Noise Matters,” with a chapter by Dr. Bronzaft, has contributed to the public dialogue on the issue of noise and noise control. And, of course, there’s the National Academy of Engineering report in 2011, “Technology for a Quieter America,” and the World Health Organization’s two-volume “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise.”

But David Owen’s book is not a “policy treatise”—it’s a wonderfully entertaining narrative filled with fascinating first-hand stories. And underneath it all he recognizes that noise is fundamentally a health problem—and a burgeoning public health problem. Watch his short video for The New Yorker to get a taste: 

This book deserves everyone’s attention—so if you’re a member of a book club, please recommend it!

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.

Lip reading: “I can’t hear you in the dark”

Photo credit: mail_collector licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The only treatments for hearing loss are hearing aids with cochlear implants reserved for the profoundly hearing impaired or those born deaf. The only rehabilitation for hearing loss is lip reading or sign language. Most people with severe hearing loss use lip reading to understand speech. Learning American sign language won’t help because few other than the deaf speak it.

This insightful essay by someone who wears hearing aids but largely uses lip reading to understand what people are saying offers a wonderful insight into what it’s like to use lip reading. Understanding comes from looking at the speaker’s mouth, facial expression, body movements, and of course hand and arm motions and position.

But the room can’t only be quiet. It has to be well-lit, too.

I don’t know that I could learn to lip read. I’ve tried, and it’s very difficult for me. Even more reason for me to protect my hearing by avoiding loud noise or inserting ear plugs if I can’t.

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.

A noise control cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis

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by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

In a 2019 article titled “Why is there no cure for tinnitus?” the authors looked at whether studies had dentified if participants have a history of significant noise exposure that could cause decreased sound tolerance, like hyperacusis or tinnitus. A cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis, the authors noted, could be very different from a cure for tinnitus or hyperacusis from other causes, like aging or head injury.

The article shows that it’s important for research to identify noise sub-types when evaluating potential cures. The underlying hearing health damage for sudden high level noise like acoustic trauma is different than damage from chronic moderate level noise over time. That is, the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from bomb blasts or firearms is likely different than the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from being exposed to unhealthy noise at school, on public transit systems, or at noisy workplaces.

High level public noise pollution in daily life can impact hearing health of all ages from babies to elders. Fortunately, the solution for tinnitus and hyperacusis caused by public noise pollution is not a cure–it’s better than a cure, as the solution is preventing the noise from happening in the first place.

How? There must be noise control for human manufactured unhealthy noise sources like personal listening devices, aircraft, road vehicles, railways, consumer products, and even MRI machines. There is no need for a cure if the source noise is never manufactured to be loud enough to cause decreased sound tolerance in the first place.

Controlling the source of noise would have other positive effects. Moderate levels of public noise pollution can significantly affect the quality of life for people with tinnitus and hyperacusis by causing poor sleep and making it significantly harder to understand speech in the presence of background noise. This, in turn, can increase stress levels, making it harder to cope and potentially interferring with available treatment.

Noise control is not impossible. Protecting the general public from unhealthy noise must cost less than the combined healthcare costs of diagnosing and treating tinnitus, hyperacusis, and other hearing health damage. And new noise prevention materials are constantly being invented. Examples include an acoustic material invented by Boston University that silences or cancels out 94% of sound waves without blocking light or airflow. A Canadian company is making noise barriers that absorb noise and air pollution. Quiet electric passenger planes could be in regional operation by 2021.

But nothing will change about public noise pollution until authorities and decision makers make health and hearing health a priority. This includes real time city and transportation noise mapping and reporting to identify locations with unhealthy noise. Noise prevention and control is necessary to protect public health and it should be mandatory.

Dr. Daniel Fink describes implications for acoustic engineering and design considerations for structures and enforced noise emission regulations and restrictions. Examples could include muffling school and public hand dryers, hour restrictions or night curfews at airports, quieter leaf blowers, quiet defaults on consumer products like microwaves with an option to turn on audible alerts, quiet solutions to replace vehicle back-up beeps, or preventing new imposed noise from delivery drones or noisy audible vehicle alert systems on electric cars. New technology needs to be quietly accessible for everyone.

Preventing public noise pollution won’t stop all cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis, but it could stop millions of cases around the world. Safe soundscapes without unhealthy noise are best for everyone from newborns to elders. And prevention is always better than trying to treat the problem or find a cure for noise-induced hearing damage after it occurs.

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.

 

 

How Mumbai solves its horn problem

Photo credit: CommGlobal UVA licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In India, a saying goes, you need four things to drive: a good car, good eyes, good luck, and a good horn. Honking horns are ubiquitous in the sprawling city of Mumbai. When the traffic light turns red, drivers honk their horns to get the drivers in front of them ready to move when it turns green.

The local police have figure out a solution to this noisy problem, though. They’ve hooked up decibel meters to the lights. If the drivers honk their horns, the light stays red.

The New York Times reports that other Indian cities are considering installing the same equipment.

Maybe the traffic folks in New York City will consider doing the same?

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.

A tech solution to restaurant noise?

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by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This informative piece by writer Chris Berdik discusses the problem of restaurant noise and a new technological solution to it, the Constellation audio system. The Constellation system uses microphones, speakers, and computer processing to tune a restaurant’s sound environment to sound quieter. A lot of sound absorbing material must be installed to make the room acoustically “dead” before the Constellation system is installed.

As discussed in this article in Acoustics Today, getting the acoustics right in a restaurant can be a challenge. Diners want to be able to converse with those at their table, but want enough ambient noise to provide speech privacy for their conversations–and they don’t want to hear the conversations at neighboring tables. They want some sound, so the restaurant isn’t as quiet as a tomb, but not too much. And the acoustic characteristics of the restaurant change, both in terms of noise production and sound absorption, as the restaurant goes from half empty to chock-a-block full.

The developers of the Constellation system are trying to bring the price down. It’s currently $60-80,000, which is a lot of money. If restaurateurs want to make their restaurants more inviting for patrons, they will find the funds to make the space comfortable and inviting.

Of course, one of the first principles of acoustics is that the easiest way to make a space quieter is to reduce the noise at its source. And the cheapest and easiest way to reduce restaurant noise costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified background music, which often is turned up to rock concert levels!

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.

Canary in a coal mine? Noise is a warning.

Photo credit: Arcadiuš licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

You likely know about sentinel species from biology class. In the mining industry until recently, miners carried caged canaries down into mine shafts with them—not as pets but as sentinels. The caged canaries’ highly efficient oxygen-intake provided a reliable early-warning signal to humans if deadly, invisible gases were present. If the canaries panicked or died, humans scrambled to get out of the mine.

Electronic sensors do that job now, but in many other ways we all rely on signals from our surroundings to warn us of danger. One kind of sentinel we should all pay more attention to is environmental noise. Most noise is actually waste, a loud byproduct of filthy, inefficient, poorly maintained industrial processes. Those noisy diesel-fueled jet planes overhead? That’s noise signaling pollution. Gas-powered jackhammers and leaf-blowers ripping up your neighborhood? That noise signals pollution too. Trains and trucks rattling past schools and disrupting kids’ education? That noise signals pollution. Garbage trucks that wake you at 5am with their fumes and noise? They’re signaling pollution.

All of those noises are the canaries in a coal mine. They warn you to watch out because you–and the environment–are at risk.

I’m writing this in February 2020. Our focus at Quiet Communities and The Quiet Coalition has been primarily on the effects of noise on hearing and other aspects of human health. Noise really is “the next big public health crisis.” But this is an election year. So it’s also time for every American to wake up and listen to what environmental noise is telling us. Noise, like other forms of pollution, is harmful for individuals–for you, for birds, for fish. And like those miners’ canaries, noise is also signaling the ongoing pollution of our air and water. That affects every thing.

It’s time to take off our headphones and earbuds and listen while there are still birds singing and we can still hear them. Listen before we’ve all been rendered unable to hear anymore.

TQC’s chair, Dr. Fink wrote an article two years ago about “Another Silent Spring.” I absolutely agree with him that “we can make a quieter world, so future generations won’t have to endure another silent spring.”

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.

A test for hidden hearing loss?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Science Daily discusses research at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, trying to find a test that will diagnose hidden hearing loss. Hidden hearing loss is hearing loss not detected by routine pure-tone audiometry, so patients complain of being unable to understand speech in normal environments but their hearing test is normal.

Right now, testing for hidden hearing loss is not clinically available, so any test that may help diagnose this common condition would be welcome.

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.

Popular Science looks at hidden hearing loss

Photo credit: Maurício Mascaro from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This well-written article in Popular Science discusses hidden hearing loss. Hidden hearing loss is caused by damages to the nerve junctions between the cochlear hair cells and the auditory nerves. It’s called “hidden” because the damage isn’t detected by standard pure tone audiometry tests, only by more sophisticated testing. Patients complain that they can’t understand what people are saying in crowded or noisy situations, but the audiologist tells them, “Your hearing is fine. There’s no problem.” For decades, this was known as the “speech in noise” problem.

It turns out that there is a problem, and it’s caused by damage to the nerve junctions, which interferes with processing of the sound by the nervous system.

The problem of understanding speech in noise, which is most likely a manifestation of hidden hearing loss, isn’t rare. Approximately 10-20% of adults appear to have it, and it may even be more common in those of middle-to-older age.

More evidence supporting the need for us to protect our ears from loud noise.

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.