Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Imagine flying from New York to London in only three hours–and in silence.

Like this, but quiet.
Photo credit: Dean Morley

Nope, it’s not just the stuff of dreams: NASA tests “quiet” supersonic jet. Rob Waugh, metro.uk.co, writes that NASA is paving the way to supersonic travel with “Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST),” which is designed to reach “supersonic speeds over land – without people on the ground hearing a sonic boom.”  According to Peter Iosifidis, QueSST program manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the “aircraft design is shaped to separate the shocks and expansions associated with supersonic flight, dramatically reducing the aircraft’s loudness.”  He adds that the airplane’s noise signature will be “more of a ‘heartbeat’ instead of the traditional sonic boom.”

This will come as welcome relief to the many people around the U.S. (and the world) who are trying to cope with airport noise.

Could post-Brexit UK see a reduction in noise pollution?

Photo credit: (Mick Baker)rooster

Arline Bronzaft, PhD, a founding member of The Quiet Coalition, has reviewed a recently released ebook (pdf), “The Noise Climate–Post Brexit,” by John Stewart, Nigel Rodgers, Henry Thoresby, Val Weedon, and Francis McManus, for The Quiet Coalition blog. Dr. Bronzaft co-authored “Why Noise Matters” (Earthscan, 2011) with Stewart, Rodgers, Weedon, and McManus. That book examined the adverse impacts of noise on mental and physical health and questioned why governments failed to implement policies to abate noise in light of strong evidence supporting the noise/health link and the availability of noise abatement measures.

In “The Noise Climate–Post Brexit,” writes Dr. Bronzaft, the authors address noise abatement with some specificity and posit that after Brexit the UK could respond to noise in a way that leads to a real reduction in noise pollution. They assert that “even though the European Union (EU) took some steps to identify sources of noise (mainly by asking its members to periodically assess the noise levels in their respective countries), it did not take the next essential step–outlining ways to alleviate the noise.” Dr. Bronzaft says that the book has an optimistic outlook, which was mirrored in a private conversation that she had with John Stewart. His optimism rests on the belief that once the UK’s ability to regulate noise is no longer tied to EU oversight, the possibility exists that the government will focus on noise abatement and employ methodologies to evaluate the abatement measures.

At the end of her conversation with John Stewart, Dr. Bronzaft wished him well and told him that she would be reflecting on how the newly appointed head of the U.S. EPA, Scott Pruitt, would be addressing the noise issue in the U.S. “At this point,” said Dr. Bronzaft, “John wished me ‘good luck.’”

Good luck to us all.

Hearing loss may double in the U.S. by 2060

Photo credit: Thomas Widmann

CBS News reports on a new study that concludes that millions of Americans face the prospect of losing their hearing as they age. The study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimates that “[a]mong American adults 20 and older, hearing loss is expected to increase from 44 million in 2020 (15 percent of adults) to 73.5 million by 2060 (23 percent of adults),” with the greater increase among older Americans. As a result, “there will be an increased need for affordable interventions and access to hearing health care services.”  Says lead study author Adele Goman, “[h]earing loss is a major public health issue that will affect many more adults,” and “to address this issue, novel and cost-effective approaches to hearing health care are needed.”

Or perhaps prevention would be a better tactic?

Dr. Debara Tucci, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, would agree. She tells CBS News that “people aren’t doomed to lose their hearing as they age.” “The most common cause of hearing loss is prolonged exposure to loud noise,” adds Dr. Tucci, “which includes loud music and a noisy workplace.”  Prevention, then, should be a rallying call among the medical profession, particularly public health officials.  This is especially important since the litany of horribles that befalls older adults who suffer hearing loss goes well beyond difficulty hearing.  The list includes: higher incidences of depression and anxiety, higher rates of hospitalization and of falls, and even “evidence of an association between hearing loss and mental decline.”

Coupled with the recently released and updated information concerning hearing loss from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this study is a wake-up call to the medical and audiology professions and the public. Simply put, there is a low-cost and 100% effective way to tackle noise-induced hearing loss–preventing it from occurring in the first instance.

 

 

 

The CDC takes on noise-induced hearing loss

Photo credit: Raed Mansour

Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, writes about the “flurry of activity” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with regard to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Dr. Fink states that in the past the CDC offered “a lot of information about occupational noise exposure” and “screening neonates for congenital deafness,” but had no advice for the general public about noise.

But that has changed.

From May 2016, the CDC has issued a Morbidity and Mortality Report and Vital Signs publication on NIHL, and just recently posted new or recently revised information about how loud noise damages hearing and advice to seniors on preventing NIHL. While he isn’t surprised by the CDC’s robust response to what they identify as the “third most common chronic health condition in the US,” Dr. Fink notes that he and the other founding members of The Quiet Coalition are grateful that the CDC has stepped up efforts to help protect the nation’s hearing health.

How an inadvertent punch to the jaw changed one woman’s life forever

Bryan Pollard, President of Hyperacusis Research and a founding member of The Quiet Coalition, writes about Katrina Caro, a nightclub waitress who was trying to break into modeling when an inadvertent punch to her jaw during a brawl changed her life. He tells us about Caro’s injury and its aftermath, explaining how a dental injury suddenly “turned out to be far worse,” as Caro’s “jaw pain spread to her ears, causing hyperacusis.”  As the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research, Pollard is particularly knowledgeable about the severe form of hyperacusis that plagues Caro.  Click the link above to learn more.

The Internet of Things’ answer to bad Airbnb guests:

Dallas startup offers noise monitors for rentals. Melissa Repko, The Dallas Morning News, writes about NoiseAware, a noise monitoring startup out of Texas. NoiseAware is the brainchild of Dave Krauss, who was engaged in the (sketchy) business of reletting apartments for short-term rentals on Airbnb. One Airbnb guest threw a loud party that resulted in Krauss getting a “cease and desist letter from a Dallas apartment manager.”  He ended up with a $30,000 loss on the apartment. To help others avoid his fate, he and his co-founder developed a noise monitor that alerts an owner when the noise in his or her apartment passes a certain level:

The sensors, which are manufactured in Plano, are bolted into an electrical outlet and connected to Wi-Fi. A property owner can customize quiet hours or adjust noise level sensitivity. If the noise rises above that level for a sustained period, the owner gets a text message.

And then, presumably, the owner calls the renter and harangues them for being noisy. Or something.

While we an understand Krauss’ motivation for developing this product, we do wonder about the implications of real time monitoring. Sure, NoiseAware only monitors the decibel level–as far as we know–but could it be adapted to allow the owner to listen in real time? And what about broader applications? Krauss was essentially subletting apartments for short term rentals via Airbnb.  Could or should a landlord could attach these sensors in longer-term rentals? That said, no doubt there are plenty of parents who would love to monitor their kids’ activities when they are away.  As for us, we’re just waiting for the startup that offers an app that allows you to hack the NoiseAware sensor.

It’s World Hearing Day!

By Daniel Fink, MD

Today, March 3, is World Hearing Day. This day is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness and promote ear and hearing care around the world. The theme of this year’s World Hearing Day is “Action for Hearing Loss: Make a Sound Investment,” which aims to draw attention to the economic impact of hearing loss and cost effectiveness of interventions to address it.

I wish the WHO and the U.S. federal government paid a little more attention to prevention of hearing loss rather than dealing with the consequences after the damage has been done. The “public health mantra” is that prevention is better and cheaper than treatment, which in turn is better and cheaper than rehabilitation. I know that many people think hearing loss is part of normal aging, but several lines of evidence suggest that most hearing loss is caused by noise exposure. Presumably most people think they can just get a hearing aid when their hearing goes, unaware that hearing aids don’t work as well for hearing loss as eyeglasses work for presbyopia. And noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable–just avoid loud noise. If you can’t avoid noise, use earplugs.

Helen Keller said decades ago, “Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people.”  The New York Times recently had a column about blindness, the most dreaded physical disability.  If people were losing vision instead of losing hearing from noise exposure, people might be more concerned about our too noisy world.

A sobering article on a severe form of hyperacusis:

Photo credit: Epic Fireworks

When even soft noises feel like a knife to the eardrums. Joyce Cohen, writing for Statnews.com, introduces us to Tom Maholchic, who suffers from a severe form of hyperacusis where noise is felt as physical pain. Most people who have hyperacusis find ordinary environmental sounds to be uncomfortably loud, but a more severe form, like that which Maholchic has, is far more debilitating. For Maholchic “routine sounds — the sizzle of bacon, the ring of a phone, the rush of running water,” feels “like a knife stabbing his eardrums.”

Cohen explains that while researchers have known about hyperacusis for years, very little was know about the more severe form, until very recently:

Using new lab tools and techniques, pioneering scientists have identified what appear to be pain fibers in the inner ear, or cochlea. They are coining new terms, including “noxacusis” and “auditory nociception,” for this newly recognized sensation of noise-induced ear pain.

Cohen gives us an overview of the difficulties researchers confronted in attempting to learn more about nerve fibers within the cochlea, “a tiny sensory organ buried within a skull bone [that is] tough to reach and impossible to biopsy.”  But, nonetheless, advances have been made.  And for sufferers like Maholchic these new findings will help them get some understanding about a condition that “[f]ew doctors or audiologists are even aware of.”

Most importantly, as the research continues and hyperacusis becomes more generally known within the medical community, one hopes that general practitioners and other medical professionals will advise their patients to avoid exposure to loud sound. As Cohen writes, noise loud enough to cause immediate pain is rare, “[b]ut exposure over time to more modest noise — from music, movies, sirens, lawnmowers, and a thousand other everyday things — can damage hearing and set off the pain fibers.”  Maholchic didn’t think his noise exposure was unusual–he said he listened to his ipod while vacuuming, played in a garage band, and worked at a lively restaurant–but one day his ears started ringing and shortly thereafter the pain began.  Even if the research advances quickly and a treatment or cure is found in Maholchic’s lifetime, no doubt he would agree that preventing the condition would have been the better option.

 

Here’s an interesting podcast worth checking out:

Twenty Thousand Hertz is a podcast hosted by Dallas Taylor, the founder and creative director of Defacto Sound, a sound design studio. The podcast explores “[t]he stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.” Not sure which episode you should listen to first? Try this one, The Sound of Extinction. Just be ready to stiffle a sob as futurist Madeline Ashby answers Taylor’s question: “What’s the biggest loss in terms of sound that we’ve experienced?”  Without pausing to think Ashby responds, “the sound of silence.”

Do We Hear too Much Noise Every Day?

Dr. Daniel Fink believes the answer is yes. Noted noise activist, Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of The Quiet Coalition, writes about his thesis that the general public is exposed to entirely too much damaging noise every day. He notes that noise is a public health hazard, yet the federal government, which adopts standards to protect the public for food, water, and motor vehicles and makes recommendations or guidelines for dietary intakes of vitamins, salt, and sugar, has issued no federal standard regulating noise exposure or recommending noise limitations for the public.  In his piece, Dr. Fink describes his quest to find the noise level that will protect hearing, and he reveals how a recent important but ignored study has confirmed his suspicions that hearing damage can occur at lower decibel levels than previously suspected.

Click the link above to read more about Dr. Fink’s mission to warn medical professionals, the government, and the public about the dangers of noise and how we can protect our hearing.