Tag Archive: Dr. Daniel Fink

COVID-19 and the city soundscape

Photo credit: Craig Adderley from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, and David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote a very nice essay about COVID-19 and the city soundscape, which was published in New York City’s Our Town, the local paper for the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is known and published worldwide for her expertise and teaching on community noise. But noise is personal too, a cause. So she’s never lost sight of it’s impact on her own home town, New York City, where she has been an adviser to five mayors. Nor the effect it has on her own neighbors on the upper east side of Manhattan, even during the recent COVID lockdown that brought life to a standstill an an eery quiet punctuated only by the frightening sounds of ambulance and police sirens at any hour of the day or night.

In her essay, Dr. Bronzaft notes that sound and noise received a great deal of attention during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of the usual hustle and bustle of noisy New York City, she writes:

There was talk about hearing and seeing more birds; not being awakened by overhead jets in the early morning hours; not being subjected to loud construction noises; and no music from nearby bars. However, an increase in loud ambulance sirens disturbed our ears and upset our minds because this meant more people were likely suffering from COVID-19.

She goes on to discuss possible future outcomes as urban activities return to normal, and expresses the hope that everyone–including city officials–will remember, when normality returns, what this period of calm and quiet was like.

Dr. Bronzaft’s piece dovetails very nicely with an editorial by Dr. Antonella Radicchi in a special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Sound and the healthy city

Image © Marcus Grant 2018

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful and thought-provoking editorial from Antonella Radicchi and colleagues appears in the special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city. Dr. Radicchi was the lead guest editor for this issue and the Quiet Coalition acts as special issue partner.

One of the many things I was reminded of reading the editorial is that although urban noise has serious and well-recognized health consequences, a broader perspective on the urban soundscape is needed.

Perhaps my single-minded focus on decibel levels is misplaced? After all, I like the sounds of birdsong or fountains or many street entertainers just as much as anyone else.

As Dr. Radicchi and her colleagues write:

We hope that through a soundscape approach we can encourage fresh thinking about urban sound, including how people perceive and relate to their sonic environments, and show how sound can contribute to health. We believe that this approach can provide a collaborative platform for sound artists, sound technologists, urbanists and local people to work together with public health and create healthier urban environments.

They certainly encouraged some fresh thinking and self reflection for me!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Lockdown reduced noise exposure across the U.S.

Photo credit: fancycrave1 from Pixabay

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some months ago we wrote about Apple’s new sound monitoring features on the iWatch, and the fact that Prof. Richard Neitzel at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health was working with Apple to analyze data collected by iWatch wearers. The first report from Prof. Neitzel’s work has now appeared in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

As discussed by Fermin Koop, ZME Science, half a million daily noise readings from volunteers in Florida, California, New York, and Texas were analyzed, starting before the COVID-19 lockdowns and continuing into the lockdown period. The data showed that initial decreases in noise exposure occurred on the weekends, but as people started working from home these extended into the entire week. Average daily noise exposures dropped by about 3 decibels.

This doesn’t sound like very much, but the decibel scale is a logarithmic one like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, and a 3 decibel decrease represents approximately a halving of the noise energy level that the volunteer data collectors were exposed to.

Koop writes that the study is one of the first ones to collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. The data will now be shared with the World Health Organization and will help describe what personal sound exposures are like for Americans across different states and different ages.

“These are questions we’ve had for years and now we’re starting to have data that will allow us to answer them,” Neitzel said in a statement. “We’re thankful to the participants who contributed unprecedented amounts of data. This is data that never existed or was even possible before.”

Prof. Neitzel’s previous work found high levels of noise exposure for those living in New York City.  And a review article by Prof. Neitzel and colleagues discussed the auditory and non-auditory health consequences of excessive noise exposure, including high blood pressure.

Thanks to Prof. Neitzel and Apple for making this important citizen-science contribution possible.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

High noise levels are dangerous for more than your ears

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have written about high ambient noise levels as a disability rights issue for those with auditory disorders, and I’ve also noted that ambient noise levels in restaurants and bars are loud enough to cause hearing loss. A fascinating article by in The Atlantic also suggests that high ambient noise levels are a risk factor for COVID-19 transmission.

interviewed Muge Cervik, a lecturer in infectious disease at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a co-author of an extensive review of Covid-19 transmission conditions, who noted that what makes controlling COVID different from controlling an influenza outbreak is that transmission is more random–a few people infect a lot of others, in clusters of infection, while most infected people don’t infect anyone else. And loud talking is a risk factor for super-spreading of COVID-19. writes that Cervik told her that:

In study after study, we see that super-spreading clusters of COVID-19 almost overwhelmingly occur in poorly ventilated, indoor environments where many people congregate over time—weddings, churches, choirs, gyms, funerals, restaurants, and such—especially when there is loud talking or singing without masks. For super-spreading events to occur, multiple things have to be happening at the same time, and the risk is not equal in every setting and activity….

If ambient noise levels exceed about 75 A-weighted decibels*, people have to talk more loudly to be heard.  And often they may move closer together than the usual 3-4 foot social distance to a more intimate 1-2 foot distance. Of course, 3-4 feet is already less than the 6 foot safe social distance recommended for reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Noise Curmudgeon, a Canadian blogger who writes about noise, noted that Toronto offered the following guidance for bars and restaurants:

It is advised to keep the volume of music, either live or recorded, at a reasonable level-one that does not cause customers to raise their voices or shout, thereby possibly increasing the risk of transmitting the virus.

He went on to write:

And there you have it – turn that background music down so I don’t risk spreading or getting the corona virus! Now we have clear permission make the request without feeling like we are messing up other peoples’ background music. Perhaps if this virus continues for very long, low or no background music will become the “new normal”!! Yay!!!

We couldn’t agree more.

Because if a restaurant or bar sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your hearing is at risk.

And now, high ambient noise levels in restaurants and bars are a risk factor for COVID-19 transmission, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Another study shows association of hearing loss with cognitive decline

Photo credit: Xiaofan Luo licensed under  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We have reported previously on associations between hearing loss and dementia in the U.S., and studies finding brain changes associated with decreases in auditory input due to hearing loss. Hearing loss is also associated with depression.

This study from China, published in JAMA Network Open, confirms these associations in a different population. The China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study is following a nationally representative survey of adults age 45 and older, and their spouses. The current study looked at data from 18,038 participants with an average age of 59.9. Hearing impairment was associated with worse performance in episodic memory, mental intactness, and global cognition and a greater risk of depression.

Correlation is not causation, but this report from another country with a different language and culture confirms studies in the U.S. and Europe. It’s another piece of the puzzle in trying to understand why some people develop certain problems as they age. Research is ongoing to elucidate how hearing loss contributes to or causes cognitive decline, and whether providing hearing aids can prevent or slow cognitive decline.

In the meantime, we urge people to protect their hearing as assiduously as they protect their vision. We don’t stare at the sun. We wear sunglasses when outdoors. And we should view hearing loud noise just like staring at the sun. Loud noise is as dangerous for the ears as the sun is for the eyes.

Because if something sounds loud, it’s too loud, and auditory health is in danger.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Low-cost hearing aid developed

Photo credit: Phil Gradwell licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss is a major problem in much of the world but few of the world’s total population can afford hearing care or hearing aids of any kind.

The World Bank estimates that 700 million people live on less than $2 a day. Daily life is a struggle. Providing food is a struggle. Preventing hearing loss is not even considered, and there are no resources to treat even profound hearing loss. Many African countries lack a single audiologist or ENT specialist.

My own observation during international travel, back in the old days when that was possible for someone holding an American passport, is that many developing countries–Myanmar and India come to mind–were much noisier than the U.S. or Europe. Unmuffled car motors are repurposed to power boats, and workers in noisy occupations like blacksmithing or metal work don’t use hearing protection.

Into the gap come the engineers from Georgia Tech, who have developed a low-cost hearing aid that can be assembled quickly. They call this LocHAid.

In the industrialized world, people don’t want a large hearing aid worn around the neck, but in developing countries, this would be a blessing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Restaurant noise still a problem even during covid lockdown

Photo credit: Daniel Case licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Cape Gazette, covering Delaware’s Cape region, notes that even during the COVID-19 lockdown, restaurant noise is still a problem. Food writer Bob Yesbek says he has written about restaurant noise before but this article was sparked by a flurry of emails complaining about restaurant noise after he wrote about new restaurants opening up in spite of increasingly prolonged restrictions on indoor dining.

As Yesbek notes–and as was covered in Acoustics Today last year–restaurant noise and its perception are complex issues. The good news is that techniques such as sound absorption, diffusion, and masking can make restaurant dining more pleasant.

Why does sound management matter? Because we don’t just go to a restaurant to eat. We can do that at home. We dine out, usually with family or friends, to celebrate special occasions or to socialize, and being able to carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard is an important part of the enjoyment.

And these days, ambient noise levels in restaurants and bars matter even more. Talking loudly and being closer than 6 feet from others to allow conversation over high ambient noise levels helps spread the coronavirus, and that can have deadly consequences.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Freiburg banned from hosting games at new stadium due to noise

Former SC Freiburg Stadium   Photo credit: Markus Unger licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We have written a number of times over the years about the dangers of stadium noise for players, employees including coaches and other team staff and those who work in the stadium and for those attending the games, but we’ve never considered stadium noise heard outside the stadium until now.

From Germany comes this report about the Freiburg soccer team and its new stadium.

Germany has very strict laws governing noise from sports events, the “Sportanlagenlarmschutzverordnung.” Apparently there are different regulations governing rare or occasional events and regular or recurring events.

The administrative court in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg ruled that previous decisions regarding the soccer games as rare events were in error, and the games are recurring events. Because of this, the games cannot be played at the scheduled hours due to violations of the noise ordinances (Larmschwelle).

This is quite surprising to me, given that the new stadium is located next to the runway of the local airport, but that’s what the court ruled.

We can only wish that similar noise laws existed in our country.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Marine noise may harm lobsters

Photo credit: Roger Brown from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Research has shown that noise is unhealthy for humans, birds and small mammals, fishes and marine mammals, and now for lobsters.

Yahoo! News reports on an Australian study showing that lobsters living near a busy shipping lane had damage to their statocyst, an organ equivalent to the parts of the human inner ear controlling balance. The damage was similar to that caused by high intensity seismic air guns used in underwater exploration for gas and oil. Surprisingly, the lobsters didn’t appear to have any changes in their behavior nor was their righting reflex damaged–they were able to turn back to right side up after being turned upside down.

I suspect it’s harder to assess changes in lobster behavior than in mammals or humans, though, and there has to be some impact of the statocyst damage that research will eventually reveal.

The basic principle is that living organisms need energy exposure to survive, but too much energy exposure causes harm. This is true for plants, which need sun for photosynthesis but which are damaged by greater sun exposure caused by climate change; for humans, who need sun exposure to convert vitamin D to its active form, but can get sunburned and eventually deep wrinkles, pigmentation, and skin cancer from too much sun exposure; and for all animals, who use sound for finding food, avoiding prey, communicating, and entertainment, but are damaged by excess noise exposure.

For humans, remember: if it sounds loud, it is too loud, and auditory damage will inevitably occur.

Avoid loud noise exposure or wear earplugs if you can’t.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

5 ways to protect against hearing loss

Photo credit: Nelson Sosa licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we have discussed, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of normal aging but largely represents noise-induced hearing loss.

This article from The Covington News discusses five ways to protect your hearing. The article is sensible, though I’m not sure a baseline audiogram is necessary, and cotton ear swabs aren’t recommended but aren’t a problem unless one pokes the eardrum.

The other three suggestions are spot on: turn down the volume, use hearing protection, and avoid loud noise.

Because if it sounds loud, it is too loud, and your hearing is at risk.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.