Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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World Health Organization: 1.1 billion young people worldwide face the risk of hearing loss

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has posted an important article on hearing loss and young people: Millennials, the Deaf Generation?  The article states that a major cause of hearing injury to young people are music players, noting that the WHO “found that almost half of those ages 12 to 35 listen to their music players at unsafe volumes, while around 40 percent expose themselves to very loud events such as concerts.”  Among other things, the article suggests that using over the ear headphones over earbuds could help reduce the risk, especially when coupled with keeping the player’s volume at 60% of its range and listening to music for no more than 60 minutes at a time.

The concern about hearing loss in young people is also addressed by Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate in her piece, “A Silent Epidemic. Teen and Young Adult Hearing Loss.”  Ms. Eberts writes that “[a] research study published in The Journal of American Medical Association in 2010 found that 1 in 5 teens had some type of hearing loss. This was significantly above the 1 in 7 teens with hearing loss measured 10 years earlier.”  She agrees that the use of earbuds is a significant cause for the alarming increase in hearing loss, but she adds that “the increased volume levels at restaurants, bars, sporting events, and other venues are also likely to blame.”  As someone who has genetic hearing loss Ms. Eberts knows firsthand about the frustration and sadness young people with hearing loss will suffer, noting that such suffering is avoidable since noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.  As in the ASCH article, Ms. Ebert recommends steps people can take to avoid hearing injury in the first instance.

This silent epidemic of hearing loss is not going to be silent for much longer.  One hopes that the increased attention on hearing loss among the young will motivate government, business, and individuals to work together to prevent the unnecessary deafening of an entire generation.

 

Maybe this will get peoples’ attention:

AC/DC’s Brian Johnson quits touring for good because of hearing loss.

Yes, nothing like the threat of complete hearing loss to bring home the importance of protecting one’s ears.  Let’s hope that AC/DC considers the damage inflicted on concert goers when they resume touring.

Safe noise exposure for the general public

Daniel Fink, M.D., Interim Chair of the Quiet Communities Health Advisory Council, has written a post for the Quiet Communities’s blog that tackles a question which is rarely addressed: What noise level IS safe for preventing hearing loss?

In his post, Dr. Fink discusses the seeming contradiction between a 1974 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determination that “a 24-hour average noise exposure level of 70 decibels (dB) or less prevent[s] measurable hearing loss over a lifetime” with statements from various governmental and nonprofit organizations that suggested that “a much louder noise level − anything up to 85 dB − was safe for our ears.”  In the course of researching the issue, he received a communication from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that explained where the 85 dB figure came from; the information in that communication formed the basis of a post on NIOSH’s Science Blog in February 2016 (which is discussed here).

Long and short, the NIOSH communication explained that the 85 dB was an occupational noise exposure standard developed to protect workers over a lifetime of work, whereas the EPA determination of 70 dB averaged noise exposure over 24 hours was believed to protect the general public from hearing loss over a lifetime.  As Dr. Fink notes that the clarification of the difference in noise exposure limits is important in setting public policy and protecting public health, and he concludes that, based on his research, “[t]he much lower 70 dB average noise exposure level is the only published safe noise level to protect the public’s hearing.”

 

NIOSH Science Blog clarifies difference between occupational and general noise exposure limits

Many people are confused about what is a safe noise limit for the general public because the only noise limit the public may have heard about is the 85 decibel recommended exposure limit (REL) that National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) established for occupational noise exposures.  Fortunately, the NIOSH Science Blog has just posted an informative piece* that discusses acceptable RELS for both, titled: Understanding Noise Exposure Limits: Occupational vs. General Environmental Noise.

The authors state that in 1998, NIOSH established the REL for occupational noise exposure to be 85 decibels based on an 8-hour shift for a 5-day work week, adding that the REL “assumes that the individual spends the other 16 hours in the day, as well as weekends, in quieter conditions,” and cautioning that “the NIOSH REL is not a recommendation for noise exposures outside of the workplace in the general environment.”  The difference between the occupational and general environmental noise exposures is that:

The NIOSH REL is not meant to be used to protect against general environmental or recreational noise; it does not account for noisy activities or hobbies outside the workplace (such as hunting, power tool use, listening to music with ear buds, playing music, or attending sporting events, movies and concerts) which may increase the overall risk for hearing loss.

The authors point out that a 1974 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report recommended 70 decibels over a 24-hour average exposure limit for general environmental noise (while noting the EPA’s caution that its recommendation was not a standard, specification, or regulation).  This recommendation was determined in a similar manner as the NIOSH REL, but it’s focus was on general environmental noise and not the workplace.  As the EPA report states, their recommendation “was chosen to protect 96% of the general population from developing hearing loss as well as to protect ‘public health and welfare.’”

The authors note that both limits “are based on the same scientific evidence and the equal-energy rule,” but “are designed to protect against different problems.”  As a result, the limit values differ because “the EPA limit was averaged over 24 hours with no rest period while the NIOSH limit is averaged for just 8 hours and includes a rest period between exposures,” and the EPA limit includes an allowance “to protect against exposures for 365 days a year versus the NIOSH REL’s calculation that aims to protect against work place exposures for 250 working days a year.”   The authors add that “the EPA limit did not consider cost or feasibility of implementation as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in accepting a NIOSH REL as the basis for a mandatory standard, [was] required to do under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.”

Long and short, the authors conclude that the 85 decibel REL is a work standard that neither mandates nor recommends decibel limits for the general public.  Rather, it is the EPA’s recommendation of 70 decibels that provides the appropriate exposure limits for the public with regard to general environmental noise.

*The post was prepared by NIOSH engineer, Chuck Kardous, MS, PE; NIOSH audiologist, Christa L. Themann, MA; NIOSH research audiologist Thais C. Morata, Ph.D., who is also the Coordinator of the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council; and W. Gregory Lotz, Ph.D, Captain, US Public Health Service, Division Director of the Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART), and the manager of the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council.

Going to the Superbowl?

Don’t forget your ear plugs! Why?  Because stadium noise is deafening and, unbelievably, encouraged.  The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, actively encourages stadium noise at Arrowhead Stadium, which the franchise boasts is the “loudest in the league.”  In 2013, a “record-setting attempt was planned by Chiefs fans but had support of the organization, which paid $7,500 to fly an adjudicator from Guinness to Kansas City to document the effort.”  They “won” with a record-breaking 137.5 decibels.  And then they did it again in 2014, this time reaching a punishing 142.2 decibels.  On purpose.  Because a lot was at stake: Kansas City Chiefs had to best the Seahawks’ loudest stadium record.  Yes, team fans compete for the glory of having the world’s loudest stadium.

While the various franchises brag about whose fans are the loudest, at least some people recognize that being the ‘world’s loudest stadium’ is a bad idea.  NBC News, reporting on the record attempt, reached out to experts to address the obvious–for some–concern about the effects of extreme noise on hearing:

What [the record-breaking attempt] is most certainly doing is damaging the hearing of every person in attendance. People don’t recognize how much damage they can do to their hearing, says Alison Grimes, an assistant clinical professor of head/neck surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of audiology at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

“People will say, ‘Oh, it was just for 10 minutes,’” Grimes says. “And what I tell my patients is that noise is cumulative over the lifetime. Each time you use a chain saw or ride a motorcycle or go to a stadium to make the sound meter reach the top, it accumulates.”

While the NBC News piece sensibly suggested that fans attending the game purchase over-the-counter ear plugs, it’s likely that most of the fans who were present for this misguided attempt at glory were not protected.  Does that matter?  Will there be long-term consequences for this lapse in judgment?  Sadly, yes.  As Dr. Grimes noted:

“If you’re literally talking about 130 decibels – nobody should ever be exposed to that,” Grimes said. “There isn’t a safe amount of time for 130 decibels. It’s physically painful as well as acoustically damaging.”

Remember, “hair cells in your ear don’t grow back. There is no Rogaine for your inner ear,” warns Grimes. “While hearing aids work really well, there is no substitute for natural hearing.”

Daniel Fink, M.D., a noise pollution activist in the Los Angeles area, believes that the Kansas City organizers missed a golden opportunity to obtain recognition of another world record.  Noting that the record 142.2 dB roar exceeded the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) maximum Permissible Noise Exposure of 140 dB, he suggested that the organizers should have submitted the event for a second world record: the most people whose hearing was permanently damaged at one time (about 80,000 in attendance).*

So skip the stadium and watch the Super Bowl at home.  Your ears will thank you for it.

*Dr. Fink adds that while there is no law protecting the public from the dangers of loud noise, workers have legal protection provided by OSHA.  On the day of the world record event, stadium employees and players and staff of two NFL teams were exposed to noise exceeding the maximum allowable workplace noise exposure level.  Dr. Fink filed a complaint with OSHA but was informed that the statutory limit for reporting a workplace safety violation had passed.

Mapping New York City Noise Complaints

The Atlantic’s City Lab reviews a new map by CartoDB that maps how noise is perceived in New York City.  CartoDB “[p]rogrammers mapped publicly available 311 noise complaint data from 2015 by Census tract, and layered on a dashboard that allows users to study those complaints against more than a dozen different metrics.”  City Lab notes that, “[i]t’s certainly not the only map made from 311 data out there, but it offers a lot more opportunity to play with the data yourself than most others.”  Definitely worth checking out.

Mapping noise complaints must have been the idea du jour this month, because The New Yorker also addressed 311 noise complaints in Mapping New York’s Noisiest Neighborhoods.

The New Yorker article also mentions an exciting development in the noise pollution front:

Margaret Chin, a councilmember from lower Manhattan, introduced a bill that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to start sampling noise across the city. The bill notes that “noise pollution is widely prevalent in urban areas” and that “transportation systems are the main source”—though it adds that bulldozers, air compressors, loaders, dump trucks, jackhammers, pavement breakers, loudspeakers, plumbing, boilers, air-conditioners, fans, and vacuum cleaners also bear considerable blame.

This is excellent news.  Before noise pollution can be properly controlled, we need to see the data.  Who knows, maybe city council will finally implement and enforce a noise regime that will make lilving in the city just a little bit easier.

Everyday noise: Hand dryers

In For drying out loud: Noisy hand dryers cause issues for some, the Dallas Morning News addresses one of our personal nemeses, hand dryers in public restrooms.  While the noise generated by a hand dryer may be merely annoying for most, they are a source of distress for people who suffer from tinnitus, hyperacusis, and sensory disorders such as autism.  The article discusses an Oregon State senator’s proposed legislation to limit public hand dryers to 84 decibels, “because louder models are ‘extraordinarily obnoxious and disruptive’ to people with sensory disorders, including [the legislator’s] autistic son, who cries and covers his ears when he’s near loud hand dryers.”

The problem is that the newer, more robust hand dryers are also louder:

[S]ome hearing experts have already made up their minds on high-decibel models like the Excel Xlerator and the Dyson Airblade.

“They’re a real cause for concern,” said Dr. Deanna Meinke, an audiologist and a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. “It’s just one more unnecessary source that adds to our cumulative exposure to noise.”

And there’s the problem in a nutshell.  Hand dryers are sold as an ecologically sound alternative to paper towels, but one wonders if the real reason for their use the cost savings associated with no longer purchasing paper towels and the less frequent need to remove trash/clean restrooms.  Sadly, no one puts a price on the discomfort (if not damage) suffered by those affected by loud hand dryers, which, unsurprisingly, are often placed in small tiled spaces.  As Dr. Meinke noted, it’s just one more unnecessary source of noise.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.

The danger to hearing posed by restaurant noise is so obvious

even the NY Post has written about it.

Steve Cuozzo of the NY Post reports that “leading otolaryngologists — better known as ear, nose and throat specialists — warn that dining at the city’s noisy restaurants can lead to hearing loss.”  In his piece, Cuozzo interviewed Dr. Darius Kohan, director of otology/neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital and its affiliate Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, who states that, “[he tells his] patients to avoid these places,” adding that loud restaurants are the number one complaint he gets as an ear doctor.

Cuozzo visited a number of Manhattan hotspots where he recorded decibel readings from 90 to 101, all of which have the potential to permanently damage hearing over time.  Again quoting Dr. Kohan, he writes that “[w]ith repeated, prolonged exposure, ‘you start losing high-frequency sounds such as women’s and children’s voices,’ adding that “[i]f damage to the cells advances to a certain point, ‘a consequence is that you begin to lose hearing.’

Importantly, the article highlights the insidious nature of this aural abuse, particularly with respect to the customers.  Namely, that “[u]nlike restaurant employees, whose ears take a beating night after night, customers might not even know it’s happening.”  As a result, if and when customers begin to suffer hearing loss, they may “think it’s just from age.”

Equally important, the reporter takes care to note that not everyone who complains about the noise levels “are old fogeys.”  As noted in an earlier post, one reason that restaurants are so loud is the misguided belief that younger customers are drawn to loud spaces.

One hopes that the recent spate of articles decrying the levels of noise in American restaurants encourages city governments to regulate indoor noise pollution at places of public accommodation.  One thing is becoming increasing clear: loud restaurants are not a mere annoyance, they are a health issue.

Thanks to M. Slice for the link.