Tag Archive: earbuds

Why is Cosmopolitan writing about hearing loss?

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When The Quiet Coalition came together last year, there were few articles in the popular media about noise issues, and those that did appear often contained significant factual errors. But over the last few months, the number of articles has increased and errors within them have decreased. One example is a recent article in Cosmopolitan, an international women’s magazine covering fashion, beauty, and sex, which offers very sound advice about hearing protection, including the admonishment to abandon the use of earbuds.

Health education is one of the cornerstones of public health practice. It is believed that if people know what are healthy practices, they will do it. My observation is that this may be true for those at the higher end of the socioeconomic scale but doesn’t necessarily hold for the majority of people, who are either not interested, lack resources, or are too busy handling everyday life to worry about how what they do today might affect their health tomorrow. I think society has a responsibility to protect the health of all people whatever their socioeconomic status, and I believe that strict regulations are more effective in encouraging healthy behaviors than health education programs. If health education programs worked reliably, nobody would smoke, everyone would exercise, there would be no sexually transmitted diseases, and etc.

As with laws banning indoor smoking (and in some places, outdoor smoking at beaches and parks), comprehensive local, state, and federal indoor and outdoor quiet laws will be more effective than health education programs and articles in the popular media to protect the nation’s auditory health. But health education efforts about the danger of noise are a start, at least for those who read the information.

In the United States, the best example of disparate health habits correlated with educational status may be smoking, where only about 3.7% of adults with graduate degrees (and presumably higher income levels) smoke, compared to 25.6% of those without a high school diploma. This is a striking seven-fold variation. Another example is obesity, which is inversely correlated with educational status and annual income, but the relationship isn’t as strong. Nearly 33% of adults who did not graduate high school are obese, compared with 21.5% of those with a college or technical degree, and more than 33% of adults earning less than $15,000 are obese, compared with 24.6% of those earning at least $50,000 annually.

It’s clear that higher education and income levels are keys to better health. And this now likely applies to hearing health, including Cosmopolitan readers.

And that’s important. I’m an internist who believes in practicing what I preach. I don’t smoke. My body mass index (BMI) is 24.5. I walk an hour or more a day, eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, avoid red meat, eat lots of fish, wear a hat and long sleeves if I’m in the sun, and always use a seat belt. But I had no idea that a one-time exposure to loud noise could give me tinnitus and hyperacusis for the rest of my life. So if just one young woman who reads the Cosmopolitan article protects her hearing–and tells her friends and family to do so too–the staff at Cosmopolitan will have done a great public service.

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.

Another review site tackles “kid-friendly” earbuds and headphones

And TJ Donegan, Reviewed.com, concludes that you should never let your kids use your earbuds. Why? His review finds that headphones and earbuds could be dangerous for your kids’ ears. Donegan starts his article by stating that as a father to a young daughter:

I feel like I need to constantly worry about her safety. Worse, every other day there’s some jerk online telling me to be terrified of something new. Well, today I’m that jerk, but this is important: your headphones may be dangerous.

Donegan notes that most people probably recognize that loud concerts can damage hearing, but adds that “researchers and groups like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control (sic) have established that routine exposure to moderately loud sounds can permanently damage your hearing, with up to 1.1 billion people at risk.” The risk is of particular concern for children, as they “frequently listen to music at max volume.” 

This point was driven home for Donegan who says that “when testing for our roundup of the best headphones for kids…we found that even something as simple as an Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the included earbuds can dramatically exceed the recommended levels at full volume, posing a risk after just a few minutes.”  In the course of testing volume-limiting, “kid safe” headphones, Donegan and his associates found that “many exceeded their own advertised maximum limits” or the safeguards were easy for children to remove. 

Donegan then explores the issue of “how loud is too loud,” stating that “though health experts have been studying this for decades, there isn’t a clear point at which damage is guaranteed to occur.”  He cites the “consensus” standard that holds that “you are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss if you’re exposed to an average volume of 85 decibels for 8 hours in a day,” but adds that “[i]t’s important to note that we’re not entirely sure where the safe zone really ends, and because noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible, caution is definitely the way to go.”  There is more than a hint of skepticism about safe standards in this article, as there should be.  As noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink has written in his editorial in the American Journal of Public Health, the 85 dBA standard is “an occupational noise exposure standard [that] is not a safe standard for the public.”

After an exhaustive review of hundreds of headphones, including 20 pairs of volume-limiting headphones, Donegan distills the findings into guidelines he plans on using when his daughter starts using headphones, including using volume-limiting headphones that play at or below recommended sound levels and limiting headphone use to under one hour a day.

To see Donegan’s full list of guidelines and learn more about the methodology used to review volume-limiting headphones, click the link in the first paragraph.

Link via @earables.

Hearing Loss Is Growing


From the book The Human Body and Health Revised by Alvin Davison, 1908 / Public Domain

And Experts Say Earphones Are Part Of The Problem.

Mack interviews audiologist Michele Abrams who spoke about limiting exposure to damaging sound:

When we think about decibel levels, when we think of loudness levels, it’s really incremental.  It’s a logarithmic scale. It’s not a linear scale. So we know that 85 db is that critical level. Eighty-five db, eight hours a day, that’s your maximum. If it’s 90 db — five db greater — you have to cut your time in half.

While generally informative, Abrams’ comment unfortunately identifies 85 db, eight hours a day as the “critical level.”  But this noise exposure level is too high.  It was developed solely as an occupational noise exposure standard and should never be applied to the general public, certainly not to children.  As Dr. Daniel Fink, a noted noise activist, wrote in, “What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?”:

In the absence of a federal standard, an occupational standard meant to prevent hearing loss appears to have become the de facto safe level for all public noise exposures. This is demonstrated by the use of 85 decibels as a safe sound level by hearing health professionals and their organizations, in media reports, and in publications, most often without time limits; by its use as a volume limit for children’s headphones marketed to prevent hearing loss, again without exposure times; and by general acceptance of higher indoor and outdoor noise levels in the United States.

*   *   *
Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise exposure level for the public. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health developed an 85 A-weighted decibel recommended exposure level to reduce the risk of hearing loss from occupational noise exposure. … Even with strict time limits, this standard does not protect all workers from hearing loss.

So what is a safe noise level for the public?  Dr. Fink states:

In 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendation for additional exposure time: 24 instead of 8 hours daily and 365 instead of 240 days annually.  The EPA calculated the safe noise level for the public to prevent hearing loss to be a 70-decibel time-weighted average for a 24-hour period… The EPA did not adjust for lifetime noise exposure, now almost 80 years versus 40 work-years, so the real average safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is probably lower.

One thing is clear, allowing children to use earbuds or headphones without limiting volume and time exposure is a recipe for hearing loss.  Since the federal government has abdicated its authority to regulate noise, and manufacturers are unlikely to design products that limit the user’s ability to deliver as many decibels as he or she wants, parents must step in to protect their children’s hearing.  Here’s something that will help: Don’t allow your children to wear earbuds and headphones.  Tell them that if they want to listen to music they must play it through a speaker.  While this may be unpopular, know that you will be giving your children an important gift–the ability to listen to and enjoy music throughout their lifetimes.

 

 

Yet another gadget to help you deal with workplace noise:

Introducing Orosound Tilde earphones.  So, you may be asking yourself, “what are Orosound Tilde earphones and why do I care?”  Well, the Tilde earphones are “designed to control distracting ambient noise levels, help you focus on the sounds you want, and connect via Bluetooth to phones and wireless audio devices.”  And that means what?  Essentially, Tilde earphones are portable noise cancellation devices that allow wearers to adjust the level of ambient noise immediately around themselves, with attached earbuds through which the wearer can listen to music or take phone calls.

The device is “designed specifically to help workers ‘listen to the sounds that matter and tune out the rest.’”  As the promotional literature explains, “84 percent of people complain about workplace noise levels and 80 percent say ‘they struggle to concentrate because of background noise.’”  That is, Tilde’s reason for being is to address growing worker displeasure over distracting noise that intereferes with them doing their work–a situation that has been exacerbated, no doubt, by the seemingly universal adoption of open plan work spaces.  If the earphones work as described, Tilde should be a hit.  Certainly the developers are well on their way to start making and selling the first run, as they are on the mark to satisfy their Kickstarter fundraising goal.

If only one could have a Kickstarter campaign for a workplace design with walls and ceilings and doors and no need for personal noise cancellation earphones.

Breaking the social contract?

The Tyranny of Noise.  Do click the link as this is a worthwhile read.  In this brief post, the author talks about the daily aural intrusions into our personal space as we are forced to deal with what the author calls a “kind of social rudeness.”  We would remove the words “kind of” from that phrase.  In any event, the author lists three ways in which she attempts “to push back on the cacophony of sounds in [her] immediate environment”: using earphones, using earplugs, and meditation.  We would add:

  • request that loud music be lowered in stores, restaurants, and coffee shops; if the request is denied, leave after telling management that you will not be returning.
  • ask people who are talking loudly in public spaces to lower their voices, particularly if they are in spaces that have been designated as quiet spots (like the quiet cars on Amtrak trains).

We understand that it is difficult for some to ask a waitress or store manager to lower the music volume or, especially, to approach someone and ask them to lower their voice, but until we all do this, unnecessary noise will continue to intrude into our lives.

Why everyone–except the bean counters and upper management–hates open plan offices:

When All’s Not Quiet On the Office Front, Everyone Suffers.

Click the link to learn the 12 ways that workplace noise affects worker well-being and productivity.  While the executive team, safely ensconced in their offices, may not care about worker well-being, productivity is another thing altogether.

For a bit of background on the use of open-floor plans and some advice on how to make them better, see Open-Plan Offices Are the Worst, Here’s how to make them slightly less terrible.

 

 

 

Hearables are the new star in the wearables world:

These wireless earbuds let you control which outside sounds to block.

If these catch on maybe people will consider that the better option is to control and limit noise for the general public rather than manage it one person at a time.

The Philly Voice asks:

How do earbuds damage your hearing?

Philly Voice reporter Brandon Baker posed this question Linda Ronis-Kass, an audiologist at Penn Medicine Washington Square, “for an explanation of how listening to music at a high volume through earbuds can cause hearing loss — and potentially more.”  It’s an interesting read, particularly for those of you who like to pop in your earbuds and crank the volume up (don’t!!).

Thanks to Hearing Health Foundation for the link.

Ear buds are killing your ears

The Chicago Tribune published a very informative article on How earbuds can wreck your hearing (especially for young people).  The article notes that:

A 2015 World Health Organization report found that nearly 50 percent of teens and young adults ages 12-35 are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from their personal music players. A 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association analysis found a significant increase in young people with hearing loss from three decades ago.

It’s well worth a read, particularly for the advice provided on how to know when sound is too loud and what you can do to limit harmful exposure.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.

World Health Organization: 1.1 billion young people worldwide face the risk of hearing loss

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has posted an important article on hearing loss and young people: Millennials, the Deaf Generation?  The article states that a major cause of hearing injury to young people are music players, noting that the WHO “found that almost half of those ages 12 to 35 listen to their music players at unsafe volumes, while around 40 percent expose themselves to very loud events such as concerts.”  Among other things, the article suggests that using over the ear headphones over earbuds could help reduce the risk, especially when coupled with keeping the player’s volume at 60% of its range and listening to music for no more than 60 minutes at a time.

The concern about hearing loss in young people is also addressed by Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate in her piece, “A Silent Epidemic. Teen and Young Adult Hearing Loss.”  Ms. Eberts writes that “[a] research study published in The Journal of American Medical Association in 2010 found that 1 in 5 teens had some type of hearing loss. This was significantly above the 1 in 7 teens with hearing loss measured 10 years earlier.”  She agrees that the use of earbuds is a significant cause for the alarming increase in hearing loss, but she adds that “the increased volume levels at restaurants, bars, sporting events, and other venues are also likely to blame.”  As someone who has genetic hearing loss Ms. Eberts knows firsthand about the frustration and sadness young people with hearing loss will suffer, noting that such suffering is avoidable since noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.  As in the ASCH article, Ms. Ebert recommends steps people can take to avoid hearing injury in the first instance.

This silent epidemic of hearing loss is not going to be silent for much longer.  One hopes that the increased attention on hearing loss among the young will motivate government, business, and individuals to work together to prevent the unnecessary deafening of an entire generation.