Tag Archive: Dr. Daniel Fink

85 dB is not a safe noise level to prevent hearing loss

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The title of my article in the January 2019 issue of The Hearing Journal says it all. No, 85 decibels (dB) is not a safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss.

In the absence of a federal guideline, recommendation, or standard for non-occupational noise exposure, the 85 dB (actually dBA, A-weighted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech) occupational noise exposure standard seems to have become the de facto safe noise exposure standard in the U.S. and around the world.

This misunderstanding might be why the world has gotten noisier over the last four decades.

I hope those charged with protecting the public’s health–including the Centers for DC, FTC, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and state and local agencies–will take steps to protect the nation’s auditory health in 2019.

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.

Do we have a right to live in a quiet community?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Do people have a right to live in a quiet community? Trevor Hancock, of the Times Colonist, thinks so, and so do I.

Hancock’s article discusses community noise, and highlights The Quiet Coalition’s Antonella Radicchi, PhD, who spoke in November 2018 at the Acoustical Society of America’s meeting in Victoria, BC, Canada, about her Hush City app.

In the U.S., the Noise Control Act of 1972 “establishes a national policy to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”

The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked by Congress with the responsibility to make this happen. Unfortunately, in the Reagan era Congress defunded EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control, and the country has gotten much noisier since then.

But it is now clearly known that noise is a health and public health hazard, causing hearing loss and other auditory disorders and non-auditory disorders including heart disease, stroke, and death.

We hope this knowledge will empower the public to demand quiet, just as the knowledge that secondhand smoke was a health hazard empowered the public to demand smoke free spaces.

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.

Is Your Noise Making Me Fat?

Photo credit: Yukari

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

Is your noise making me fat?  That may seem like a silly question to ask, but there is strong scientific evidence that traffic noise causes obesity.  More specifically, increased traffic noise–whether from highways, airplanes, or trains–is strongly correlated with central obesity.  Central obesity (or “truncal obesity”) is in turn linked with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac disease leading to increased mortality.

Why would noise cause obesity?  The auditory system evolved from vibration sensing mechanisms in primitive organisms which were used to sense predators, or by predators to find food.  Noise perception remains a major warning system, even in mammalian species.  Except for fish, most animals above the phylum Insecta close their eyes when they sleep but cannot close their ears, except for some which swim or dig.  Noise at levels not loud enough to cause hearing loss in humans interferes with sleep, causing a rise in stress hormone levels. These in turn alter carbohydrate and fat metabolism, leading to fat deposition. And that can cause diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn cause heart disease.

A study published in 2015 showed a clear association between noise exposure and central obesity.  Another study published that year showed that noise caused increased heart disease and death.

And 100 million Americans are exposed to noise levels loud enough to cause these problems.

There is probably nothing specific about traffic noise that makes it more likely to cause health problems than any other source of noise, except, perhaps, the factor of unanticipated noise may be important.  It’s just easier to study the effects of traffic noise on humans than asking thousands of people to use personal sound monitors for long periods of time and then collecting and analyzing those data.  Noise is noise.

It’s obviously difficult to measure the non-auditory health impacts of everyday noise exposure–in the streets, in restaurants and stores, at sports events, at concerts–on an individual, but noise has powerful physiologic effects.

So as both noise levels and obesity levels rise in the United States, the answer to the question, “Is YOUR noise making ME fat?” may be “Yes!”

What can we do? For those living near highways, airports, or railroad tracks, double pane windows and wall and attic insulation may provide some protection.  But the best approach to noise is to limit it at its source, which will require political pressure to get laws passed to require quiet, especially nighttime quiet.

After the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded 35 years ago (pdf), noise is largely a local government issue.  So if you want change, you have to speak up for yourself.  One easy step is to look at your local government’s website to see if noise is identified as a constituent issue.  If not, contact your local government representative and ask to speak to him or her about noise problems in your neighborhood or around your workplace.  In addition, an internet search should reveal whether your community has a group that is organized to fight noise in your town (click this link for a map of noise activist and quiet advocacy organizations).  Find out if they are active and go to a meeting to see what they are doing.  If politicians see that an issue is important to constituents, it is in their best interest to address that issue it they want to be re-elected.  If they ignore it, they can be replaced.  An active constituency ensures a responsive politician, at least on the local level.

Noise is omnipresent and insidious.  Because it’s everywhere, people assume that it must be tolerated and cannot be regulated.  But when air pollution became so noticeable and obviously unhealthy that it couldn’t be ignored, government responded with forceful legislation.  As a result, our air is cleaner today than it was in 1970America has gotten noisier and hearing loss in on the increase.  As with air pollution, we need robust government action to regulate noise.  If you care about your health and the health of your family, push back against noise, demand action, and join your neighbors to promote a peaceful, quiet, and healthy environment.

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.

Swedish researchers discover 3 types of nerve fibers in the ear

This image from Gray’s Anatomy is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Science Alert describes how researchers in Sweden figured out that there are three types of Type I nerve fibers in the ear. They did this using sophisticated DNA analysis techniques.

I often say that all research in a broad range of fields adds to our knowledge about noise and hearing and health, but quickly add that no new research, and no more research, is needed to know that noise causes hearing loss and non-auditory health effects including hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and death.

The scientific evidence is strong enough that there can be no rational doubt about this. And anyone who still has doubts about this can join the folks at the Heartland Institute who still don’t think the scientific evidence about cigarette smoking causing lung cancer is strong enough to be conclusive. Or the Flat Earth Society.

For the rest of us, guided by science, let’s aim to protect our ears and preserve our hearing.

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.

Chronic noise exposure linked to heart disease, stroke

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In 2017, research done at Massachusetts General Hospital reported that stress caused activation of the amygdala, a part of the brain involved with emotions, and this in turn was correlated with vascular inflammation and increased rates of cardiovascular disease and death. But to my knowledge, no one had yet linked stress caused by transportation noise directly to increased cardiovascular risk.

At the recent American Heart Association meeting, however, researchers also from Massachusetts General Hospital presented information to make this direct connection.

The adverse effects of transportation noise on health have been reviewed before, but the new report shows yet another mechanism for these adverse effects.

As Mathias Basner, MD MSc, president of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise, wrote in 2016, “[t]he overwhelming majority of noise effect researchers today accept that there is a causal relationship between environmental noise exposure and increased cardiovascular risk.”

This new report is another piece of evidence to support Basner’s statement.

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.

Motorcycle noise is not a first amendment right

Photo credit: Pulicciano licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This story by NPR discusses what will be the last Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride in the nation’s capital. The Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride first took place in 1988, an excuse to ride loud motorcycles through Washington, D.C. to honor veterans and troops killed in action, and to put pressure on the government to do more to find those still missing. The organizers of the Rolling Thunder ride will be organizing their last event in Washington D.C. this coming Memorial Day, 2019. After that, they will celebrate local and regional motorcycle rides but won’t have an organized ride in D.C. because “the event had become too costly and that federal agencies were making it overly difficult to organize.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said, “[t]he department supports the peaceful, lawful exercise of American citizens’ First Amendment rights, and remains focused on ensuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the Pentagon Reservation. The department is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride, as we have for the last 31 years.”

Some might interpret this statement to mean that the Pentagon supports citizens riding noisy motorcycles as an exercise of their free speech. I don’t think this is what those who wrote and passed the First Amendment meant. And I don’t think this is what the Pentagon means, either.

I’m a doctor, not a constitutional lawyer, but I can read the Constitution as well as anyone else. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Honoring veterans and pressuring the government to find those still missing action, and complaining about restrictions on a large, noisy motorcycle event are examples of protected free speech. Motorcycle noise is not.

States clearly have a legal right to regulate motorcycle noise, and according to the American Automobile Association, many do, even if state and local police agencies are reluctant to enforce these laws.

And there’s a federal law as well, namely transportation noise emission regulations. The law is very detailed, with different decibel levels depending on the engine size and purpose of the motorcycle (street use or off-road use) but 80 decibels is a common limit. Many if not most motorcycles exceed this limit.

Motorcycle riders may be a powerful constituency, but they are a minority. Their right to make noise stops at our ears.

If enough citizens exercise our First Amendment rights to complain to elected officials and police authorities, the laws will be enforced and we will have a quieter world.

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.

How to “rock out” with headphones without damaging your hearing? You can’t!

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this article from the Cleveland Clinic, Sandra Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology, offers advice on protecting hearing when using ear buds or headphones to listen to music.

She first notes that hearing loss is 100% preventable, and this might be the only statement that is accurate. Unfortunately, the advice she gives to prevent noise-induced hearing damage is not.

This piece is like an article fifty years ago advising smokers on how to smoke safely. One can’t! There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, and there is no such thing as safe headphone or ear bud use.

Dr. Sandridge notes that many headphones and ear buds can be too loud–most personal music players put out 100-110 decibel sound and some player-headphone combinations can reach 120 to 130 dB–but she implies that 85 decibels is the sound level at which auditory damage begins.

That’s not the cutoff between safe and unsafe sound levels. It’s derived from the NIOSH recommended exposure level for occupational noise, an exposure level that doesn’t prevent hearing loss.

Even in children age 9-11, who haven’t been using headphones very long, auditory damage is already present.

The only way to prevent auditory damage is not to use ear buds or headphones. Or to use Dr. Sandridge’s language:

The only way to rock out with ear buds or headphones without damaging your hearing is not to rock out with them!

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.

Is there sound on Mars?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (not subject to copyright protection)

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This fascinating article by Kenneth Chang in the New York Times describes Martian winds rattling the solar panels on the recently landed InSight lander. The sounds weren’t picked up by a microphone, Chang writes, rather they were captured by seismometers, instruments “designed for measuring the shaking of marsquakes picked up vibrations in the air — sound waves, in other words.” Said Chang, “[t]he seismometers act as the cochlea, the parts of your ears that convert the vibrations into nerve signals.”

It’s not clear to me if a human could hear the wind on Mars–the atmosphere is very thin, and of course a human would have to be wearing some sort of space suit, unlike in the Star Wars movies or Star Trek television shows–but provides an interesting sidelight (or side sound?) to space exploration.

You can listen to the sound, but Chang suggests that you “hook up a subwoofer or put on a pair of bass-heavy headphones. Otherwise, you might not hear anything.”  We advise that you skip the headphones and opt for NASA’s enhanced version:

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.

Hearing loss associated with depression

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’m not sure this new report on the association between hearing loss and depression in older Hispanic people in JAMA Otolaryngology adds much to our knowledge of how hearing loss affects people. It has been known for some years that hearing loss is associated with depression in older people. The report extends the research to Hispanic people in several large cities, but as best as I can tell, that’s the only new information. The authors claim that this study’s importance is that it measured hearing loss rather than relying on reports of hearing difficulties, but some earlier studies did that, too.

In older people it’s hard to tell if the hearing loss was caused by noise or not, because over time changes indicating hearing loss from noise lose specificity as hearing loss becomes worse. But my analysis of the literature suggests that what is commonly called age-related hearing loss, as in the JAMA Otolaryngology article, is really noise-induced hearing loss, which is entirely preventable.

Now that the connection between hearing loss and depression is clear, doesn’t it make sense for government and the medical community to commit resources to educate the public about the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss? A host of health concerns will diminish or disappear if we focus on stopping noise-induced hearing loss.

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.

Hidden hearing loss

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Hidden hearing loss is the term used to describe nerve damage in the inner ear (cochlear synatptopathy) which causes hearing loss detected only by special research techniques, not by standard hearing testing (pure tone audiometry). That’s why it’s called “hidden.” The clinical manifestation of hidden hearing loss is thought to be difficulty understanding speech in a noisy environment, but auditory training might help improve understanding of speech in noisy places.

This article describes a survey of adults who were asked if they would be willing to participate in auditory training. What’s of interest to me is that 22% of adults surveyed report having difficulty understanding speech in a noisy environment. That fits with other reports I’ve seen, but I think it’s an underestimate.

Many people with hearing loss think their hearing is excellent, and I think the same is true for people asked about difficulty understanding speech in a noisy environment. Due to the stigma of hearing loss, no one wants to admit that he or she has a problem.

More importantly, if people have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, it would seem to be much easier to make those environments quieter, rather than offering auditory training to those with the problem.

Quieter environments would make it easier for everyone to converse, and would prevent auditory damage in those without it.

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.