I’m an internist and was board-certified in geriatric medicine so I’m not sure I’m qualified to write anything about children, but I think being a new grandpa grants me that authority. One thing I have learned is that children’s ears are delicate, and they need to last a lifetime, so it’s important to protect children from loud noise.
At last year’s Super Bowl victory, the world saw Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles carrying his infant daughter wearing her cute pink ear muff hearing protection. Smart move. The Quiet Coalition doesn’t endorse products, but there are now many ear muff hearing protection devices available for infants, toddlers, and young children.
I suggest that parents and grandparents look for products with a noise reduction rating of 22 decibels or greater. The NRR is measured according to standards developed by the EPA, but the actual reduction in noise reaching the ear drum is less than the rated noise reduction. Just remember that the higher the NRR, the greater the hearing protection.
And start using ear protection early. If children get used to ear muffs for noise when they are infants, they are likely to develop lifelong habits of protecting themselves from environmental noise exposures.
Should you allow your child to use headphones to listen to music? I think these are a bad idea. First, parents can’t monitor either content or sound volume. Second, even with volume limits, headphone use is likely to cause auditory damage. That was the finding of a Dutch study that showed auditory problems in children age 9-11 after headphone use. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s far better to interact with one’s child or grandchild than to use audio or audiovisual content as a babysitter. Read the kid a book!
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.
Environmental noise is damaging and inflicts unwanted sounds into everyday life. In 1984, Gordon Hempton, The Sound Tracker, found 20 natural locations in Washington State with noise-free intervals lasting over 15 minutes. No manmade noise at all. No planes, trains, or traffic. By 1995, only three locations were noise-free. When I employed current sound tracking in my suburban neighbourhood in the Pacific Northwest, I never had noise-free intervals last more than 4 minutes. And I tried tracking at different times of the day, every day of the week for months.
Sociocusis is high distortion hearing loss caused by loud personal environmental noise (i.e., 75 dB average or higher). The louder the noise, the faster the damage. Noise-induced hidden hearing loss starts first. It begins with permanent rips in hearing nerves for which there are no symptoms, but damage is progressive for months after noise ends. More unprotected noise exposures causes yet more nerve damage leading to temporary or permanent inner ear hearing loss and what I call “hyper ears” (tinnitus and hyperacusis). Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, comes from gradual inner ear changes over time. Sociocusis, wrongly called early presbycusis, has a much greater impact on communication and music enjoyment than presbycusis alone.
Ear protection prevents sociocusis from loud activities like nightclubs, concerts, and stadium events. Imagine if these venues were designated “Noise Hazard Zones”: no ear protection, no entry. Imagine Noise Free Zones like at Comic-Con 2017 in New York City. Imagine architects designing public spaces with quiet acoustics in the first place. Imagine if it was standard for manufacturers to make quiet products, dropping the noise hazard of everything from blenders, lawnmowers, planes, trains, and traffic.
The UK estimates noise pollution related healthcare costs at £1.09 billion annually. The EU is using urban planning and government polices to prevent environmental noise. Noise mitigation strategies include quiet asphalt, low-noise tires, traffic curfews, quieter airplanes, noise-optimized airport take-off and approach procedures, and better infrastructure planning.
Nobel Prize Winner Robert Koch predicted in 1910 that “[o]ne day man will have to fight noise as fiercely as cholera and pest.” I think the day is here.
Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and audiologist specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.
Why the warning? Because some summer activities could cause exposure to hazardous noise levels. Stefanie Valentic, EHSToday, writes that “Ball State University audiologists are warning people to use hearing protection during activities that may expose them to hazardous noise this summer such as mowing the lawn, concerts and fireworks.” “[P]eople may suffer irreversible damage to their auditory systems after only brief exposure,” says Ball State audiology professor Lynn Bielski. Her colleague, Professor Blair Mattern, adds that “[e]xcessively loud noise, music or other sound exposure will damage our hearing. We need to take responsibility and protect it.”
Ed Pfeifer, TribLIVE, would agree. He asserts that ear protection now will pay huge dividends down the line. Pfeifer writes about the “crazy amount of abuse” the human body can take and yet continue to function. But, he adds, eventually there is a price to pay. For Pfeifer, the price was a “very slight drop” in his ability to hear. And the cause of his hearing loss? Pfeifer speculates that:
Numerous rock concerts, excessive gunfire and front row seats at the stock car races have all left their mark on the lobes on the sides of my head. But, I use power tools all the time and if I was a betting man I’d put my money on those tools as the main culprit.
He notes that “[c]hainsaws and circular saws run at about 110 decibels, most table saws hover around the 104 mark and the average confrontation with teenage children, 127.” Pfeifer knows he can’t go back in time and tell his younger self to wear ear protection, but he is doing that now “to preserve every last bit” of what hearing he has left.
So the best advice this summer–and every summer–is to protect your hearing today so that you have it tomorrow. If you use loud lawn and garden equipment, find quieter replacements—they exist–or, at the least, don’t start an engine before you put in a pair of earplugs or don ear muff protectors. And if your idea of summertime fun includes outdoor concerts, fireworks displays, or an afternoon at a race track or your workbench, always have a supply of earplugs handy. Ultimately, we must assume responsibility for our hearing.
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.