The answer, sadly, is yes. Emily Barker, writing for Redbrick, tells us about how she developed tinnitus from a one-time exposure to loud sound at a night club when she was 19-years-old. Barker says that she “never had any trouble with nights out being too loud, never had any pain or discomfort from loud music.” But after spending the evening at the club, and after she and her friends went back to the hostel they were staying at, she noticed that her ears “were ringing like crazy,” and she remembered “laughing about it with my friends because they were having the same issue and we were unintentionally shouting at each other from across the room.”
The laughter stopped the next day when Barker found that her ears were still ringing even as her friends’ ears had recovered. A couple of months later, she got confirmation that her hearing had been permanently damaged and she had tinnitus. She also was diagnosed with hyperacusis, a sensitivity to sound, so that “[a]pplause, doors or cupboards slamming, and things being dropped on hard floors are all sounds that [she] now find[s] extremely painful.”
Barker writes about the frustration of having developed tinnitus while everyone else she knew at the event did not, particularly since there was no family history of tinnitus. All she was told was that “sensitivity to noise is thought to be partly hereditary,” so her doctor theorized that she was “just an ‘at risk’ person.”
Barker concludes her piece with a warning to other teenagers and young adults, by listing myths about tinnitus, including, most importantly, the belief that you can’t get it from one night of clubbing. As she points out:
This is still the hardest thing for me to accept; it’s difficult to understand how just a few hours that caused me no distress or pain at the time can have had such a permanent impact. But the hairs in your inner ear can be destroyed by mere seconds of noise if it’s loud enough, and they cannot regrow: ergo, no cure.
Click the link to read the whole thing, and forward it to a teenager you know. Hey, they might actually read it.
Salon offers quiet chair to avoid awkward small talk. Sonia Haria, The Telegraph, reports that the salon, located in Cardiff, Wales, introduced a ‘quiet chair’ “so clients can get their hair done without feeling the pressure of making small-talk.” The owner of the salon stated that “[s]ome clients worry they aren’t good at chatting, some just don’t want to do it at all and would rather relax with a magazine.” We understand. This is a brilliant idea. Customers can request the quiet chair when they book their appointment, and if there’s more than one customer who would rather avoid conversation at the same time, “any stylist can be told to keep it quiet.” And then there’s the bit we really like: “Even the music can be turned down at the client’s request.”
It’s a long flight to Cardiff, but a small price to pay for a peaceful haircut.
By Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, Program Director, The Quiet Coalition
Are health concerns about gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs) gaining momentum? On April 29th, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) became the second in the nation to approve a resolution against GLBs, following the lead of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY). Other physician groups, such as Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment and Fresno Madera Medical Society, have also issued warnings on the use of GLBs and other fuel-powered lawn and garden equipment. The resolution brought by the society’s Committee on Environmental and Occupational Health and its chair Heather Alker, MD, MPH, recommends that the MMS:
Recognize noise pollution as a public health hazard, with respect to hearing loss;
Support initiatives to increase awareness of the health risks of loud noise exposure;
Urge the maximum feasible reduction of all forms of air pollution, including particulates, gases, toxicants, irritants, smog formers, and other biologically and chemically active pollutants; and
Acknowledge the increased risk of adverse health consequences to workers and general public from gas-powered leaf blowers including hearing loss and cardiopulmonary disease.
The growing concern on the part of the medical community over leaf blower noise is welcome news. Commercial GLBs can produce noise of 95 decibels and higher at the ear of the operator. This noise level exceeds safe occupational levels by an order of magnitude. The close proximity use of these powerful engines exposes both workers and others in the area to prolonged periods of excessive noise, not to mention toxic air pollutants. The presence of a low frequency component in the leaf blower’s frequency band distribution (i.e., the device’s sound signature) enables it to travel over long distances and through walls and windows.
The MMS resolution notes the harms to hearing and health from excessive noise produced by GLBs. Loud noise is known to cause hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, as well as other health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. In addition, loud noise has negative effects on quality of life, communication and social interaction, work productivity, and psychological well-being.
The burgeoning use of GLBs and other fossil fuel powered equipment around our homes, schools, and other public spaces is a public health hazard, and a growing number of physicians and other health professionals are becoming concerned. The moves made by MMS and MSSNY are to be lauded, and other state societies and medical groups, including the American Lung Association and American Heart Association, need to prioritize this issue. With the body of scientific evidence on the harms associated with noise and pollution, other state and national medical societies have a critical role to play in educating government officials and the public about the connections between environmental hazards and disease and the actions we can take to reduce risks in our communities.
Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc. and the Program Director of The Quiet Coalition. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices. Dr. Banks has an extensive background in health outcomes and economics, environmental behavior, and policy.
Want to take a guess why? Yes, open offices. Sarah Kessler, Quartz, examines the world of open offices and the designers who try to fix them, like Aaron Taylor Harvey, the head of Airbnb’s internal architecture and interior design group. So what does Harvey do to control the din at Airbnb? His team hung “a series of banners set two feet apart and made out of recycled cotton” from the ceiling of a large open space, wrapped surfaces with “sound-absorbing panels that look like fabric wallpaper, and strategically placed sound-absorbing walls to separate areas of noisy collaboration from those with quiet focus.”
But these are new, cutting edge tech companies. They aren’t going to be satisfied with those beige fabric covered cubicle frames that traditional corporations use. No, today’s designers are making the banners like those used at Airbnb with recycled denim. “[T]hey’re ideal for companies, like Airbnb, that want to be environmentally friendly,” writes Kessler. One company makes “sound-absorption panels that look like wood, and sound-permeable paint that can help disguise a panel as a piece of art,” while another “builds sound absorption into lamps, furniture, and room dividers.”
No doubt the cost of all these high-end fixes are cheaper than, say, providing a quiet space to each of Airbnb’s employees, but at what point do corporate executives and their bean counters decide that maybe the best option is to provide employees with an office where they can actually get their work done?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.