a little self-help is called for, and Bustle’s “The 7 Best Earplugs” is a great place to start. Whether you are looking for extended wear earplugs, everyday disposables, or corded earplugs with the highest possible noise-reduction rating, Bustle has an option for you!
Stoneyroads.com interviews DJ Dom Dolla about the importance of protecting your ears in nightlife. The article begins with the observation that “[m]any of your favourite musicians suffer from tinnitus, and the condition can worsen over time from exposure to loud noises.” Dolla, we are told, is one of them. Dolla notes that the “average nightclub sits at around 110 dB (Decibels), often louder.” He mistakenly relies on then occupational noise exposure standard when he claims that “anything over 85db is dangerous for our ears,” but correctly adds that “at 110 dB you can accumulate permanent hearing damage in a very short number of minutes.” This is particularly concerning since “[w]e’re part of a generation that spends such a disproportionate amount of time around loud music.”
So what’s Dolla’s advice? “[G]rab yourself some 25+ dB reduction earplugs and wear those bad boys religiously.” And he tells DJs that they must “resist the temptation to pull them out when you’re performing,” adding that if they “keep them in, it’ll only be a matter of time before your brain cranks up your internal gain and you’re used to playing with them.”
Dolla gets it mostly right, but his statement that 85 dBA is the point at which hearing can be damaged is dangerously wrong. As we have reported here before, 85 dBA is an industrial-strength standard developed by NOISH and OSHA for workers, not the general public. To the extent that Dolla’s advice is directed towards club workers, quoting the occupational noise exposure standard isn’t technically incorrect, but that standard is never appropriate for the general public. Says Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, “the only way to prevent tinnitus and other hearing disorders caused by exposure to loud noise is to avoid loud noise or wear ear protection if you can’t.”
In response to Winnie Hu’s article about New York City noise, The New York Times NY Regional reporter, Jonathan Wolfe, has written a piece on how to block out the city’s noise. To get some answers, Wolfe spoke with “Tim Heffernan, a writer and editor at The Wirecutter, the New York Times site that evaluates products, to ask for noise-reducing recommendations.” What follows is Hefferman’s recommendations for the best noise-canceling headphones and over-the-ear headphones, the best white noise machine, and, of course, the best disposable ear plugs.
In addition to the recommenations in Wolfe’s article, the New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suggests that apartment dwellers who live near busy streets with transient street noise consider the advice provided in the city’s “Residential Noise Control Guidance Sheet.” Says one DEP employee, “I use these principles in my own place.”
The DEP’s Residential Noise Control Guidance Sheet and Hefferman’s recommendations are sensible options for blocking noise that is intruding on your personal space. But we need to focus on the bigger issue, namely, keeping all noise in check. For example, along with recommending noise-blocking products, couldn’t The New York Times assign a health reporter to cover noise and its effect on health or report on why the federal government has abdicated its authority to regulate noise? (Here’s a hint: the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was kneecapped by industry after Ronald Reagan came into power.)
Blocking noise today may give us temporary relief, but it is a poor response to a long-term and significant public health hazard. We need government to regulate noise now to promote our wellbeing and protect our health.
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 Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
In California, on his or her birthday a 16-year-old gets a driver’s license and, if he or she is lucky, a car.
One Dutch town is thinking about what may be an even better birthday present, the gift of good hearing: Dutch town considers giving birthday earplugs to all 16-year-olds.
Link via @QuietEdinburgh.
Check out The Hippocratic Post’s Guide to ear plugs. Reporter Rebecca Wallersteiner provides a list of earplugs that are right for any occasion or user. Note that although the article’s links to purchase are to British sites, all of the reviewed earplugs can be purchased in the U.S.:
- Alpine FlyFit ear plugs
- EarPeace HD Noise cancelling earplugs
- Alpine PartyPlug ear plugs
- BioFUSE Aquatic Earplugs
In addition, we have provided links to the best-selling ear muffs for children and adults on Amazon:
“I wear earplugs everywhere because Britain is too loud.” Katie Morley, The Telegraph, reports that the UK’s “most famous choirmaster, Gareth Malone, has revealed that he wears earplugs everywhere he goes because Britain has become too noisy.” Malone wears earplugs all the time because “ears are the tools of my trade and I don’t want to do anything to endanger them.” Morley writes that despite Malone’s belief that he is “‘geeky’ for protecting his ears from loud sounds, Mr Malone may well be in common with an emerging breed of people who class themselves as intolerant to so-called ‘noise pollution.'”
She almost had us until her use of the unnecessary “so-called.” Interestingly, while relying on that weasel word to modify the term “noise pollution,” the rest of the piece highlights the many ways in which noise has overwhelmed the UK and damaged the quality of life of a majority of Brits. Sounds a bit melodramatic, but Morley writes that “two thirds of UK homeowners say their lives are being blighted by noisy activities of their next door neighbours.”
Click the link for the full story.
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.
Hey New Yorkers, as you prepare to return to work after this long holiday weekend, don’t forget to pack your earplugs:
And for Metafilter’s take: But *everything* in New York is loud…. Thanks to Lisa Kothari for the link!
Finally, a word to the wise: the 4/5/6 platform at Union Square is the absolute worse. When the trains are racing in it is absolutely deafening. Proceed with caution.
The Audiophiliac has the cure. And his short answer is this: get some disposable earplugs. Not exactly earth shattering. Although The Audiophiliac’s review of options may be useful, it is, after all, a short answer for a short-term remedy. Perhaps the author should consider the longer-term remedy and contact his city councilperson demanding real noise regulation in New York City. Just a thought.