The Quiet Coalition consists of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.
We believe an evidence-based approach to noise as a health and social problem, combined with educational outreach and organized action, can lead to meaningful change.
The Quiet Coalition provides a platform for communication, programs, and coordinated action for those trying to bring current medical and scientific knowledge to the process of creating a quieter, more sustainable, and livable world.
We urge those in government to make decisions based on sound evidence, not on faith or dogma, and to monitor programs for results.
If something doesn’t work, stop that and try something different.
That’s the scientific method. That’s how Thomas Edison invented so many things. That’s how societies get ahead.
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.
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:
Avoid noisy places.
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.
The Hearing Journaladdresses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) February 2017 Vital Signs issue on noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), focusing on the CDC’s findings with regard to non-occupational NIHL. CDC scientists Yulia Carroll, MD, PhD, and John Eichwald, MA, write about the medical community inquiries the CDC received on the topic of hearing loss related to noise in non-occupational settings, and discuss the research relied on in producing the Vital Signs’ NIHL issue.
Carroll and Eichwald write that “[m]any people may not recognize that loud noise from common activities, such as mowing the lawn or attending sporting events, can be as loud as the noise found in the workplace and is enough to damage hearing.” They note that “it is important to raise public awareness that the louder the noise and the longer the exposure, the more likely hearing damage will occur.” After all, prevention of disease is an important CDC goal, and, as the authors write, “[n]oise-induced hearing loss is a preventable health condition that can be avoided by using relatively easy measures.”
Unfortunately, “[t]here are no federal guidelines on safe noise exposures” for the public, but Carroll and Eichwald suggest that that could change:
Because noise-induced hearing damage accumulates over time, there is a need for future research about noise exposure and prevention at younger ages. CDC is working with various organizations and continues to analyze national data to prioritize public health needs.
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.
No More Suffering in Silence? Julia Calderone, Consumer Reports, has written a thoughtful piece about hearing loss and the toll it takes on those who suffer from it. Calderone states that hearing loss “has long been thought of as an inevitable part of getting older, more a nuisance than a life-altering medical condition—at least by those not experiencing it.” But that opinion is changing, she asserts, as “the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have published reports calling untreated hearing loss a significant national health concern, one that’s associated with other serious health problems, including depression and a decline in memory and concentration.”
Calderone not only treats hearing loss with the seriousness it deserves, she offers solutions to sufferers, particularly those who can’t afford to buy hearing aids, which “cost an average of $4,700 per pair in 2013.” This is a very steep price, particularly since hearing aids are usually not covered by health insurance or Medicare. To help with those who need hearing aids but can’t afford them, Calderone reviews a handful of hearing aid alternatives, namely personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), to see if they can fill the gap for those who need hearing aids but can’t afford to buy them.
Two PSAPs not covered in Calderone’s review are also worth considering: Doppler Labs HERE One and Nuheara’s IQbuds. Neither company markets their PSAPs as a hearing aid or hearing aid substitute, but at around $300 a pair they offer personal amplification and soundscape management to people who might have no other options.
And a final thought about the sorry state of hearing health in the U.S.: For people who are suffering noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), the personal and economic costs could have been avoided in the first place because NIHL is 100% preventable.
and the facts are frightening. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control’s (CDC) current issue of Vital Signs focuses on the dangers of noise on hearing health. Among other things, the report states that:
40 million Americans aged 20-69 years old have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the US, and almost twice as many people report hearing loss as report diabetes or cancer.
1 in 2 American adults with hearing damage from noise did not get it exposure to noise at work. Noise outside of work can be as damaging as workplace noise.
Too much loud noise, whatever the source, causes permanent hearing loss.
1 in 4 Americans who report excellent hearing have hearing damage. You can have hearing loss without knowing it.
The louder the sound, and the longer you are exposed to it, the more likely it will damage your hearing permanently.
Continual exposure to noise can cause stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many other health problems.
This fascinating if distressing report comes with easy to understand graphs and charts that clearly explain the dangers of noise exposure, who is most at risk, the high cost of hearing loss, how hearing loss occurs, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent NIHL. Because, in the end, one point is crystal clear: noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an announcement about National Protect Your Hearing Month, stating that it is “a time to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.” Noise-induced hearing loss “can result from occupational noise exposures, leisure activities such as sporting events or concerts, or use of personal listening devices.” Whatever the cause, it is permanent and irreversible. More importantly, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable.
The CDC notes that noise-induced hearing loss affects people in all age groups. During 2001 to 2008, one in five Americans over the age of 12 years had hearing loss in at least one ear, and one in eight had hearing loss in both ears. The CDC adds that prevalence of hearing loss is expected to increase.
Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link. Dr. 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.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted content on its website addressing Environmental Noise Exposure and Health. This content looks at a number of issues, including what is hearing loss, sources of environmental noise, and the public health burden from noise and hearing loss.
Under a section titled “Recommendations and Guidelines,” the CDC discusses noise exposure limits. The CDC notes that the Environmental Protection Agency identified 70 dB as the average exposure limit to environmental noise for the general public, as did the World Health Organization (WHO), which “recommend[ed] that noise exposure levels should not exceed 70 dB over a 24-hour period, and 85 dB over 1 hour period to avoid hearing impairment.” Occupational noise exposure limits established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for an 8-hour workday are also mentioned.
Kudos to the CDC for posting this material on their site and giving noise exposure the attention it deserves. Noise-induced hearing loss and other injuries are mostly preventable, and the failure to educate the public on appropriate exposure limits is significant. As the CDC states, the “National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that in 2014, an estimated 21.0% of adults aged ≥18 years had difficulty following a conversation amid background noise, 11.2% had ringing in the ears [ed. note: tinnitus], and 5.9% had sensitivity to everyday sounds [ed. note: hyperacusis].” In short, noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis affect more than a third of the population of the United States. Given the CDC’s mission to control and prevent disease and injury, one hopes this is the first of many steps taken to educate the public, advise federal, state, and local governments, and rein in a preventable health epidemic.