you could have hidden hearing loss (and not know it). WMAR Baltimore reports on hidden hearing loss, a relatively recently discovered hearing breakthrough that explains how people who pass hearing tests have problems hearing in noisy environments. WMAR interviewed audiologists about this breakthrough, who said that “why patients can’t decipher speech in noisy situations has been unexplained, but a new breakthrough is changing that.” The researchers who made the hidden hearing loss breakthrough studied young adults who were regularly overexposed to loud sounds, and found that “hidden hearing loss is associated with a deep disorder in the auditory system.”
It’s never too late to protect the hearing you have. Exposure to loud sounds damages hearing. Period.
TechRepublic writes about the “new study from Oxford Economics [that] claims that open office floor plans can hurt employee productivity” in a piece titled, “Here’s how to design the best office for your employees.” And once again we are compelled to respond as follows: When will this assault on employee productivity and morale end? Why can’t *they* bring back private work spaces?
It seems clear that nothing will be done until the bean counters can quantify the enormous costs of open plan offices. No doubt part of the problem is that it’s hard to put a dollar figure on employee distraction, frustration, and decreased morale. But one thing is clear, the absolute raft of articles on how much employees hate open plan offices indicates that they are a problem that needs to be solved or redesigned or otherwise dealt with. One day some newly minted management genius will rediscover pre-open plan office design, repackage it slightly, and give it a new name, and after the applause dies down, *they* will follow.
Noise levels in nightclubs may induce hearing loss. News Medical reports that “researchers in Southern California have found that the average continuous level of noise in some nightclubs is at least 91.2 dBA (A-weighted decibels).” Again, this is not a surprise, but what is surprising is a statement researchers made about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Namely, the researchers found that “[c]lub goers may suffer noise-induced hearing loss from just one night out on the town.” That’s right, if a club is loud enough, you could suffer a lifetime of hearing loss from one exposure. Don’t be a statistic, if you are going to hit the clubs be forewarned and forearmed–bring ear plugs so you can have fun and preserve your hearing.
Hearing loss. , writing for PBS News Hour, examines hearing loss, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as “the most common work-related injury with approximately 22 million workers exposed annually to hazardous levels of occupational noise.” ‘[I]n an effort to reduce these numbers,” she writes, “the Labor Department launched a challenge earlier this summer called ‘Hear and Now,’ in which it is soliciting pitches for innovative ideas and technology to better alert workers of hazardous noise levels.”
Critics have countered that technology to address the problem already exists. The real problem, they claim, is that the maximum noise exposure level and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are outdated. Among other things, the OSHA regulations “use sound level limits that don’t factor in the noise exposures that occur beyond the workplace — at restaurants, concerts and sporting venues, for instance — that can add to workers’ cumulative risks of harm.” OSHA officials offered that “the agency will issue a request for information later this year about current regulations at construction sites to figure out if more stringent protections are needed and how companies are complying,” but Tan notes that “[a] similar call for information was issued in 2002, but no changes resulted from the action.”
Tan suggests that employers will have to assume more responsibility in educating workers, as some workers do not use hearing protection at work because they are not aware of the risk. Click the link above to learn more, including Tan’s report about Jeff Ammon, a former construction worker who can no longer work due to hearing loss and hyperacusis, a condition marked by sensitivity to environmental noise.
Catherine Caruso, reporting for Scientific American, writes about “Detecting Hidden Hearing Loss in Young People.” Caruso looks at hidden hearing loss, a phenomenon discovered in 2009, which the researchers who discovered it consider a “likely contributor to the cumulative loss typically associated with aging.” Now, those researchers have developed tools for detecting hidden hearing loss and have discovered evidence of hidden hearing loss in young people.
While Caruso notes that there is hope that hidden hearing loss could be reversed in the future, she also points out steps one can take now to protect hearing: namely, by limiting noise exposure and using ear protection. And parents, talk to your kids about their earbud and headphone use. No one knows if and when researchers will be able to reverse hidden hearing loss, so avoiding hidden hearing loss in the first instance is the best tact.
The best ways to cope with a noisy office. Rachel Becker, writing for The Verge, is wisely concerned about finding a good option to block distracting noise at work that won’t put her hearing at risk. Becker notes that “[h]earing loss typically occurs as people age” and that it is irreversible, but what she is concerned about is the World Health Organization’s statement that “more than 1.1 billion young adults are also at risk” of hearing loss because approximately “half of [all] people ages 12 to 35 in middle-to-high income countries are exposing themselves to unsafe levels of noise on their devices.” That is, younger people are engaging in activities that almost guarantee they will suffer hearing loss as they age, something Becker wants to avoid.
Sadly, her review of options doesn’t reveal a perfect answer. But her article is important because she is young and aware that she may be able to avoid hearing loss entirely by taking steps to protect her hearing today. She’s right, after all, about hearing loss being irreversible, and the truth is that no one knows when, or if, a cure will be found. Since noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, Becker is choosing the wiser route: avoid exposing your ears to damaging sound today to preserve your hearing tomorrow.
Bats are adapting their hunting strategies to the noise of our cities. The good news is that a study published in Science shows that bats appear to be successfully adapting to human noise. But as a researcher not involved in that study notes, “[s]ome animals probably can’t [adapt].” So what happens to them? And what about humans? As the world gets noisier, how will we cope? Or not? It’s certainly something that should be addressed sooner rather than later, because, as the article reports:
“This is way beyond bats now. This is about thinking about any animals,” says Paul Faure, the director of the Bat Lab at McMaster University, who was not involved in the study. “We are domesticating our planet, we’re creating noise pollution, we’re creating light pollution. We’re fundamentally altering the world that we live in.”
Noise and its effect on all animals, including humans, has been ignored for too long. It’s more than just a nuisance. Among other things, noise can damage hearing with one exposure. It’s time that the federal, state, and local governments step up and regulate noise much as they regulate air or water pollution, treating noise as the public health hazard that it is. It also is time for adults to assume some responsibility for their hearing and their children’s hearing by protecting themselves and others through the use of ear plugs and ear muff protectors, or by the simply lowering the volume when they can, and leaving a loud space when they cannot. It’s time that we take noise-induced hearing loss and other noise-induced hearing injuries seriously. Because until we do, people will continue to suffer permanent hearing injuries for which there is no cure, a particularly galling situation when one considers that noise-induced hearing injuries are 100% preventable.
September 22, 2016 Disorderly Sound, Everyday noise, Health and Noise, Hearing loss, Hearing protection, Hyperacusis, Medical and scientific news, Noise Pollution, Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), Public health, Quality of Life 0 Read more >
Crowd noise to be cranked up during Ohio State football practices to prepare for road game. The Columbus Dispatch reports:
Ohio State will be going on the road for the first time this season — against No. 14 Oklahoma — with a lineup loaded with players who have never experienced a hostile crowd.
“It’s a concern,” coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll pump crowd noise in like we normally do. This will probably be one of the loudest stadiums in the country.”
Coach Meyer isn’t bragging about having one of the loudest stadiums in the country, he’s just making a statement of fact. But the fact that he doesn’t express any concern about the noise level at games–except for whether his players will be able to hear calls–is disturbing. As is his response to stadium noise: blast crowd noise at his players during practice so they can become acclimated to it. At what point are coaches, universities, and team owners going to acknowledge that stadium noise is dangerous to hearing? After an epidemic of hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis?
Note to attendees: the face paint can be removed, but that ringing in your ears that “went away” after a few hours (or days), that’s a different story. So if you are going to the game, read up about hidden hearing loss and protect yourself. Bring ear plugs and leave with your hearing intact.
By, Daniel Fink, M.D.
Some public health crises–the spread of Zika or an outbreak of Ebola, for example–are surprises. But on September 8th, with the start of the National Football League season in Denver, a public health crisis can be predicted with stunning accuracy. Weaponized stadium noise levels, used by professional football teams to interfere with visiting teams’ play calling, will cause mass auditory damage to tens of thousands of football fans.
Stadium noise is a danger at college games, too. But I am going to focus on the professional game because the football players, team staff, and stadium employees are protected by regulations promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which establishes permissible exposure levels for workplace noise. The public and student athletes in college sports have no such protection. For some strange reason–most likely because the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) was defunded in 1981–there are no federal safe noise levels for the public. (For background on the defunding of ONAC, see Lessons from a Public Policy Failure: EPA and Noise Abatement).
The world record stadium noise level of 142.2 decibels was set in 2014, in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the visiting Seattle Seahawks. That record exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible noise level of 140 decibels! The crowd in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium broke Seattle’s previous record of 137.6 decibels. At 136 decibels, the maximum legal time for workplace exposure is less than one second. So one could say that both stadium noise records likely set another world record: the largest number of people sustaining auditory damage at one event. At Arrowhead Stadium, that world record number was 76,613.
Football games were always noisy, but not this noisy. From 1989 until 2007, an NFL rule allowed officials to penalize a team if fans made noise loud enough to interfere with play calling. Abolition of that rule allowed home teams to turn up the volume, both of crowd noise and of amplified sound.
So how loud is 140 decibels? That’s about as loud as a jet engine at full throttle getting ready for takeoff. That’s loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or hyperacusis (a sensitivity to noise) with only one brief exposure. Brief repeated noise exposure is called intermittent exposure. While the noise exposure may not meet the continuous exposure thresholds used by OSHA, the total effect of enough intermittent loud noise exposure may be sufficient to cause auditory damage.
If thousands of football fans suffered diarrhea after eating tainted food or drinking contaminated water at a football game, public health authorities would sweep in, investigate, and take action. But because it’s “only” hearing loss (and tinnitus and hyperacusis), nothing is done. Keep in mind that an average of 68,000 fans attend each NFL game, which is the highest attendance per game of any professional sports league in the world. That means that more than 17 million fans are potentially at risk of auditory damage in any given year.*
This risk is not hypothetical. Research first reported in 2009 indicates that there is no such thing as temporary auditory damage. If someone exposed to loud noise has temporary tinnitus or diminished hearing after exposure, permanent auditory damage has been sustained.
Some football teams have started to respond to the dangerous noise levels by offering earplugs to fans. Is this enough? In a word, no. Without efforts to control noise levels, without warning fans that their hearing is being endangered, and without public health authorities taking steps to protect the public’s auditory health, more needs to be done. If not, perhaps trial attorneys will step in where the government refuses to tread. I can see the lawyers’ advertisements on television: “Were you at Arrowhead Stadium on September 29, 2014? Do you have problems with your hearing now? Call us to learn what you can do to get compensated for your permanent hearing injury.”
In the meantime, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud! Fans should bring their own earplugs or earmuff hearing protection to both professional and college football games. And if the noise level is above 100 decibels, follow the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s recommendation and bring both!
*The actual number of people at risk of auditory damage from NFL games annually is fewer than 17 million as many people attend more than one professional football game each season, but it has to be a large number. The noise exposure issue is a complex one beyond a full discussion in a brief blog post. Key issues include the Time Weighted Average (TWA) noise exposure (i.e., the total noise dose at an event and over a day, a year, and a lifetime that causes auditory damage) and the fact that if one experiences only two hours of noise above 85 decibels it is mathematically impossible to reach the CDC’s recommendation of an average noise dose of only 70 decibels for 24 hours to avoid hearing loss. A discussion of sound measurement and A and C weighting and the difference between an occupational noise exposure and a safe noise exposure level for the public is also beyond the scope of this brief blog post.
Daniel Fink, M.D., is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. Dr. Fink serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ 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. Opinions expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the American Tinnitus Association, Quiet Communities, or The Quiet Coalition.