Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Who should get their hearing checked? Everyone!

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This local television anchor recommends that everyone get his or her hearing checked.

But this isn’t what the experts at the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend. They reviewed the published medical literature on screening for hearing loss and concluded that, based on the literature, there is no proven benefit to screening for hearing loss in adults. People who complain of not being able to hear should be checked, they cautioned, but they found no benefit in looking for hearing loss is those who don’t have an obvious problem.

Maybe it’s time to rethink that recommendation. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Vital Signs: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Among Adults, found the following based on recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey:

Results: Nearly one in four adults (24%) had audiometric notches, suggesting a high prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss. The prevalence of notches was higher among males. Almost one in four U.S. adults who reported excellent or good hearing had audiometric notches (5.5% bilateral and 18.0% unilateral). Among participants who reported exposure to loud noise at work, almost one third had a notch.

Conclusions and Implications for Public Health Practice: Noise-induced hearing loss is a signficant, often unrecognized health problem among U.S. adults. Discussions between patients and personal health care providers about hearing loss symptoms, tests, and ways to protect hearing might help with early diagnosis of hearing loss and provide opportunities to prevent harmful noise exposures. Avoiding prolonged exposure to loud environments and using personal hearing protection devices can prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Audiometric notch is the hallmark of noise induced hearing loss.

The CDC information that a quarter of American adults have hearing loss but don’t know it–including those who rate their hearing as good or excellent–indicates a major problem. Experts recommend checking blood pressure at every doctor visit and cholesterol at varying intervals, depending on risk factors, beginning in childhood. Screening for auditory disorders is recommended for children but not for adults. But hearing loss is like high blood pressure or high cholesterol–it is painless and asymptomatic, and unless someone checks, the patient doesn’t know that he or she has it.

Why does this matter? Most Americans, including most doctors and audiologists, don’t know that the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is only 70 decibels time weighted average for 24 hours with the real safe noise exposure level probably even lower than that. Most Americans don’t know that we are exposed to dangerous levels of noise every day, which probably explains the recent CDC findings. If people know that they have hearing loss, perhaps they will do more to protect their ears.

Significant hearing loss with age is probably not part of normal physiological aging, but represents noise-induced hearing loss. (I will be presenting a paper on that topic at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise.)  Regular hearing testing could prevent current and future generations from losing their hearing.  Why? Because noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, and regular tests would let people know whether and to what degree their hearing is compromised, allowing–and encouraging–them to take action today to avoid significant hearing loss tomorrow.¹

Take the initiative with regard to your hearing health, and have your hearing tested regularly as part of a preventive health plan.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

¹ For those who are concerned about establishing the diagnosis of hearing loss as a pre-existing condition which might increase their insurance rates or exclude coverage for future hearing health care, they should not be worried for two reasons: (1) Medicare and Medicaid don’t have a pre-existing condition exclusion, and (2) federal and commercial insurance plans do not cover audiology services and hearing aids. Which is more important? Not establishing a pre-existing condition for something not covered by insurance, or finding out that your hearing is already being damaged and having the chance to take steps to protect your ears?

It’s going to be a long summer

You’re finally settled into your new place! And then you learn that your neighbor is a DJ…

New rules limit NYPD’s ability to address noise complaints. Just in time for the summer, New York City police “will no longer be allowed to go onto private property and remove sound equipment when responding to noise complaints.”  The reason, reports the NY Daily News, is that a new directive provides that “’warrantless entry’…is not authorized solely for the purpose of abating noise conditions.” Under the directive, if police are not given permission to enter an address for which a noise complaint has been made, “the officers ‘may return on the following day and issue summonses as appropriate.’”

While we understand–and applaud–the police department’s concern about officers engaging in warrantless entries, providing that officers “may return the following day” (unlikely) to issue a summons seems like a recipe for disaster: take one obnoxious and indifferent neighbor, add in too much noise, stir in a bucket full of frayed nerves, and shake vigorously. If the NYPD wants to stop warrantless entries for noise complaints while maintaining the peace, maybe it’s time to extend night court hours beyond 1:00 a.m. and allow officers to get a timely summons.

 

Want to be a citizen scientist?

HUSH CITY app Icon: ©️ ANTONELLA RADICCHI 2017

Antonella Radicchi is a registered architect with a PhD in Urban Design and a soundscape researcher.  She is currently an IPODI-Marie Curie Fellow working on her post doc project “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes” at the Technical University Berlin. As part of her project, she has developed HUSH CITY app, a free mobile app designed to crowdsource data “related to ‘everyday quiet areas.'”

Radicchi is concerned about how cities have become increasing noisier, noting that in Europe “over 125 million people are affected by noise pollution from traffic every year.” “Quietness,”she laments, “is becoming a luxury available only for the elites.” In order to protect and plan quiet areas, Radicchi’s project applies “the soundscape approach, the citizen science paradigm and open source technology, with the ultimate goal of making quietness as a commons.”

Radicchi is currently working on a pilot study in the Reuterkiez, “a Berlin neighborhood affected by environmental injustice and noise pollution,” using crowdsourced data to target “everyday quiet areas” by using the HUSH CITY app, interviews, and group soundwalks. And she is inviting people to be “an active part of a citizen science research project to map and evaluate quietness in cities” by downloading and using the app. The information that is gathered will be use to generate an “Everyday Quiet Areas Atlas,” a “virtual, open, interactive and multi-layered map,” and “a digital report on how to protect existing ‘everyday quiet areas’ and planning new ones.”

Ah, but I don’t live or work in Berlin, you may be thinking. Not a problem, as you don’t have to be in Berlin to participate. You can identify “everyday quiet areas” in your neck of the woods because HUSH CITY app can be used wherever you are.  If you want to join others to identify, preserve, and create quiet spaces in your community, here’s how to do it:

  • Download the Hush City app–it’s free!
  • Go to one of your favorite quiet spots
  • Record the sound where you are in the quiet spot
  • Take a picture of the spot where you recorded the sound
  • Answer the questionnaire about this quiet spot
  • Share this information with your community.

You can download HUSH CITY app at the iTunes Store or Google Play. And for those of you who wonder what happens to the data that is collected–and you should for every app you download–Radicchi states that “all data collected will be stored and shared anonymously and in respect of privacy issues.” You can contact Radicchi directly via @firenzesoundmap or @HUSHCITYapp.

 

Because the world isn’t noisy enough, someone created fidget spinners

Photo credit: Charmingco licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

But no worries, reason prevails: Fidget spinners banned from schools for making too much noise. For the uninitiated, a fidget spinner is a “palm-sized spinner containing ball bearings which can be flicked and spun around.” And why do they exist (other than to torment us)?  Actually, they were designed to help students with ADHD and autism and it’s thought that they help with concentration, but they became “a fad after YouTube bloggers gathered millions of views by performing tricks with them.”  So students who were playing with fidget spinners for fun and not to help them concentrate were interfering with students trying to concentrate.  While the linked story was about a ban at a UK school, you’ll be glad to know that fidget spinners are also banned in 32% of the largest high schools in the U.S. So far.

Humans can use sound to estimate sizes of enclosed spaces

ScienceDaily writes about fascinating research in echolocation in “Echolocation: Sizing up spaces by ear.” The article tells us about research conducted at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU), and led by Lutz Wiegrebe, a professor in the Department of Biology at LMU, that has shown that sighted people can be taught to estimate room size with the help of self-generated clicks. The research also found differences in how reflected sound affected the visual cortex of sighted versus blind participants.  Namely, with a “congenitally blind participant…reception of the reflected sounds resulted in the activation of the visual cortex.” “That the primary visual cortex can execute auditory tasks is a remarkable testimony to the plasticity of the human brain,” says Wiegrebe. Interestingly, sighted subjects “exhibited only a relatively weak activation of the visual cortex during the echolocation task.”  Click the link above to read the entire article. It’s a very interesting read.

Link via Cheryl Tipp.

Is this the most thoughtful birthday present ever?

Photo credit: Dave Crosby licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In California, on his or her birthday a 16-year-old gets a driver’s license and, if he or she is lucky, a car.

One Dutch town is thinking about what may be an even better birthday present, the gift of good hearing: Dutch town considers giving birthday earplugs to all 16-year-olds.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

National Parks: Why quiet matters

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

On May 4, Science and Phys.org™ published news reports about a recent, significant, multi-year study about the pervasiveness of noise pollution in 492 national parks and natural areas across the U.S.

In “Noise Pollution is invading even the most protected natural areas,” Science writer Ula Chrobak notes that:

The great outdoors is becoming a lot less peaceful. Noise pollution from humans has doubled sound levels in more than half of all protected areas in the United States—from local nature reserves to national parks—and it has made some places 10 times louder, according to a new study. And the cacophony isn’t just bad for animals using natural sounds to hunt and forage—it could also be detrimental to human health.

Under the study, researchers from the National Park Service and Colorado State University “recorded noise at 492 sites across the country with varying levels of protection, [and] used the recordings to predict noise throughout protected areas in the rest of the country.” They also estimated naturally occurring ambient noise and compared the noise levels with and without humanmade noise. The results were damning: noise pollution doubled sound levels in 63% of protected areas and caused a 10-fold increase in 21% of protected areas.

And the impacts of that noise pollution affect all living things withing these areas.  Phys.org reports interviews Rachel Buxton, the study’s lead author and post-doctoral researcher, who states that “[t]he noise levels we found can be harmful to visitor experiences in these areas, and can be harmful to human health, and to wildlife.” The noise pollution findings means that “noise reduced the area that natural sounds can be heard by 50 to 90 percent,” which “also means that what could be heard at 100 feet away could only be heard from 10 to 50 feet.”

So what is the impact on humans and wildlife?  Phys.org explains:

This reduced capacity to hear natural sound reduces the restorative properties of spending time in nature, such as mood enhancement and stress reduction, interfering with the enjoyment typically experienced by park visitors. Noise pollution also negatively impacts wildlife by distracting or scaring animals, and can result in changes in species composition.

High levels of noise pollution were also found in critical habitat for endangered species, namely in endangered plant and insect habitats. “Although plants can’t hear, many animals that disperse seeds or pollinate flowers can hear, and are known to be affected by noise, resulting in indirect impacts on plants,” said Buxton.

The study results have been widely reported, showing that there is real interest in protecting our national parks and natural areas.  Researchers know that “many people don’t really think of noise pollution as pollution,” but they hope that this study will encourage more people to “consider sound as a component of the natural environment.”

The National Park Service’s huge portfolio of parks and natural areas provides a huge canvas for researchers concerned about the impacts of “noise pollution.” You may be surprised to learn that the National Park Service has a research division called “Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division” that has been looking for several years at the effects of noise not only on visitor experiences, but also on plants and animals. Their work is fascinating and resulted in a 2014 report from the National Academy of Engineering called “Preserving National Park Soundscapes.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

The danger of noisy oceans

Photo credit: Samuel Blanc licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

We have posted before about how ocean noise is causing damage to various species of whales, so it should be no surprise to hear that human noise has thoroughly invaded our oceans. The Islands’ Sounder spoke to Christopher Clark, a bioacoustic engineer who he studies biology and acoustics, who discusses how “ambient noise from ships” interfered with his research on whales. Clark said that “[w]hat was eerie was that he could hear [ships’] rumble, but the ships were so far away they might as well have been invisible.” “North Atlantic right whales, like the Southern resident Orcas, are endangered,” adds Clark, who “suspects noise is a contributing factor for both species.” “You can’t listen to the ocean for any length of time without encountering human noise,” he laments.

The damage is not limited to whales, as ocean noise is damaging other species. Matt Soergel,The Florida Times-Union, reporting on research on dolphins in the St. Johns River, writes that researchers were surprised to find that “there’s no place [in the area they studied] immune to man-made sound,” and they are not sure why.  As for the effect on dolphins, the researchers aren’t quite sure, but “dolphins, especially in the murky tannin waters of the St. Johns, rely on sound to communicate and to hunt,” and the St. Johns’ dolphins have shown a decline in health.

And seals are suffering too, as researchers from the University of St. Andrews have discovered that “[s]eals may experience hearing loss from underwater vessel noise.” Although the researchers have said that there was “no evidence that seals were exposed to noise levels high enough to cause permanent hearing damage,” lead author Dr. Esther Jones added that “[u]rbanisation of the marine environment is inevitably going to continue, so chronic ocean noise should be incorporated explicitly into marine spatial planning and management plans for existing marine protected areas.”

Noise is not just a nuisance, it’s a public health issue for all species on this planet.

 

 

 

The unintended consequences of CDC’s guidelines for preventing hearing impairment

by John Drinkwater, Founding Member, The Quiet Coalition

If you follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to protect your hearing then be prepared for isolation and depression. The CDC’s February 2017 issue of Vital Signs states that continued exposure to unsafe sound levels can cause stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, and other health issues. So in order to protect your hearing, the CDC recommends everyone:

  1. Avoid noisy places.
  2. Use earplugs, earmuffs and noise canceling devices when in noisy places.

Amplified sound levels at restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters, health clubs, nightclubs, and other public places often are unsafe.

Following recommendation No. 1: You don’t go.

Following recommendation No. 2: Your ears can’t function properly.

Imagine if the “solution” to second hand smoke at a restaurant was to wear a protective mask over your nose and mouth. How could you possibly communicate and enjoy your meal? Hearing “protection” simulates the effects of hearing loss and inhibits your ability to communicate and enjoy the event. It also trains your ears to get used to the effects of hearing loss and may inhibit recognizing gradual hearing impairment.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a part of the CDC charged with conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness, is highly critical of earplugs and earmuffs and recommends they should only be used when engineering controls are not feasible to reduce noise levels. According to NIOSH, the noise reduction rating system (NRR) used for earmuffs and earplugs greatly overstates “protection” and therefore is not NIOSH approved. Workers often do not use hearing protectors properly, and they interfere with communication. If earplugs are removed for a short period in order to communicate, there can be immediate and irreparable injury. Even double protection (earplugs and earmuffs) is inadequate when exposure exceeds 105 dB.

Manufacturers mislead the public with overstated marketing claims. A Dow Industrial company markets their “Professional Earmuff” as “Our Highest-NRR Rated Earmuff (30 Decibels), Patented Twin Cup Design.” The really small print in the inside of the box states the Company:

[M]akes no warranty as to the suitability of NRR as a measure of actual protection from any noise level since such protection depends on the sound level (loudness), how long you listen to the loud sound, and how well you fit the earplugs (sic) in your ears…The NRR is based on the attenuation of continuous noise and may not be an accurate indicator of the protection attainable against impulsive noise such as gunfire…[Company] recommends reducing the NRR by 50% for estimating the average amount of noise reduction provided.

Furthermore, no type of hearing protection or noise canceling device protects against low frequency sounds, which travel through your body causing stress and may damage unborn children. Accordingly, NIOSH’s primary recommendation of the most effective way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is to “remove hazardous noise from the workplace or remove the worker from hazardous noise.”

If you follow the primary CDC and NIOSH guideline, avoiding noisy places, it results in the same isolation, depression, and other issues associated with hearing impairment. The only healthy solution is requiring safe amplified sound levels so no hearing protection is necessary–it doesn’t cost anything to Turn Up the Quiet.™ There are many architecturally safe and pleasing ways to reduce sound levels in public places: breaking up an open floor plan, using materials that absorb or diffuse sound on wall and ceiling surfaces, installing carpeting, curtains, and tapestries, and using attractive acoustic panels, to name a few. It is also good for business.

After meeting with a local health club, they agreed to institute a new “quiet” class with no amplified music on a trial basis. Management was surprised to hear positive comments from members who had simply stopped coming to classes due to the unsafe volumes. They learned that some members with hearing aids took them out, put in earplugs, and still found the classes unbearable. In a few months they added two more quiet classes.

It’s OK to ask the grocery store, the clothing store, and other retailers to turn off the amplified music while you are shopping. Many will happily accommodate you, and it encourages others to do the same. Some businesses are establishing regular “quiet” hours of operation and finding more satisfied, and even new, customers who spend more time at the establishment.

In addition, “silent discos” are gaining popularity, where instead of amplifying music through speakers it is “silently” delivered via Wi-Fi to smartphones for patrons to listen without disturbing others. The local mayor wants to try it as part of the Summer Concerts in the Park series. It will allow those who may not want amplification to enjoy the Park, and won’t interfere with nearby businesses or residents. The same technology can be applied to other music events such as outdoor exercise, and speech events, such as public ceremonies, political speakers, and other large public gatherings.

These and other creative ways to avoid unsafe levels will allow all of us to fully participate and enjoy public gatherings without the risk of injury.

John Drinkwater is a composer, musician, and attorney with a background that includes science and architecture studies. He is the founder of secondhandsound.org, and he also owns the trademark Turn Up the Quiet™ All Rights Reserved.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Text Copyright 2017 John Drinkwater
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