Tag Archive: health

Pursuing an invisible threat

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Prof. Richard Neitzel, of the University of Michigan and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, views noise as an invisible threat. In this university news release, he discusses some of his research and its implications for health.

Watch Dr. Neitzel talk about noise pollution and his career studying noise pollution exposure and health outcomes:

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.

Information is our weapon against noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As this column by Jane Brody discusses, 47 years ago the Center for Science in the Public Interest started informing the public about good nutrition and also influencing public policy about food labeling and nutrition standards.

CSPI’s success has been mixed, but it clearly has had a major impact.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I became a noise activist three years ago–after reading this article in The New York Times science section about hyperacusis, which I have–I set out to do the same thing for noise that CSPI has done for food and nutrition.

Everything I do regarding noise is based on scientific and medical evidence. To my surprise, most of the information I have written about has been known since the early 1970s, or even earlier. It just has been forgotten since the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded (pdf) during the Reagan years. I took me a year to learn what a safe noise level is, as I wrote in the American Journal of Public Health. [Hint: it’s not 85 decibels without time limit, as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health insists on its website, with the misleading statement “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” That’s true, but it’s like the National Cancer Institute saying, “standing out in the sun every day for a long time all summer long can cause skin cancer.”]

So let’s hope that regulators and policy makers will begin to recognize the dangers of noise exposure in the new year. I’m certainly going to do my part to bring this problem to their attention. I hope you will join me.

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.

Yes. The answer is yes.

The battleground.

And the question is: Are noise-filled carriages bad for your health? Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, is righteously appalled about a bone-headed idea floated by UK railway company South Western Railways which is considering getting rid of quiet carriages.  For some of us–raises hand as high as one can–quiet cars on Amtrak and state-run transit are the one of the few saving graces of an increasingly overused, underfunded public transit system here in the U.S. So reading that   South Western Railways may kill quiet carriages not due to lack of interest but because “[t]he rise of mobile phones, loud music players and a general lack of etiquette mean that quiet zones are now virtually unenforceable,” is an absolute outrage.

Parkinson writes that some people think that quietness is overrated [Ed: monsters!] and says that “[p]sychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry suggests that we are becoming frightened of quietness, possibly as a result of technology.” But Parkinson sides with those of us who just want a moment that isn’t filled with layers of unavoidable sound, even suggesting prison sentences for the sound-loving louts who would rob the rest of us of just a few seconds of peace:

Seven years. That’s the minimum prison sentence that should apply to people on public transport who listen to music through their phone speakers (also known as “sodcasting”) – with two years for banal phone conversations that never end.

We agree, and would suggest similar sentencing guidelines for people wearing headphones who sing along, badly, to whatever they are listening to and those who set their phone volume to 11 and engage the tapping sound on their phone keyboards.

In the end, though, we can’t and shouldn’t avoid all sound, but the artificial sounds imposed on us by marketing miscreants and social louts can be controlled. Instead of getting rid of quiet cars on trains, why not make them all quiet except for one loud car for the uncaring and boorish? Tired of trying to eat a meal in peace only to have some miscreant spend his or her entire meal shouting into their smart phone? Interpose yourself into the conversation by offering unsolicited advice or agreeing with the unseen person on the other end. And refuse to give a dime of encouragement to the amateur “entertainers” who leap onto your subway car just as the doors close, armed with a boom box or bongos–yes, really–with the intent of destroying your sanity for the next three minutes.

People have begun to accept that noise is normal and that wanting quiet is some quirky affectation. But noise isn’t normal and should not be the default. We need to push back against the bad behavior of the noise makers and reclaim our public spaces.  So demand more quiet cars. Ask someone to stop shouting into their phone.  And know you are not alone.

How quiet should it be?

Lake Verynwy, Wales, Oct. 2017 | Photo credit: Dr. Daniel Fink

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I recently wrote about measuring sound on an alpine hike, noting that the reading of the ambient noise level, which was in the low 40 decibels, was much quieter than we hear in our urbanized settings. I also noted that noise exposure, as part of the total daily noise dose, is what causes noise-induced hearing loss.

Another important adverse effect of noise–especially nighttime noise–is disruption of human activities, including sleep disruption. A measure of the noise impact on sleep is called the LDN, How quiet is it in a non-urban setting?

I hadn’t thought about this until last night. My wife and I are traveling in a remote part of Wales, staying at a hotel overlooking Lake Vyrnwy, a manmade reservoir supplying water to Liverpool 75 miles away. It took more than an hour of driving on one-lane country roads to get here. (It wasn’t that far, but at 25 mph, it took a while.) I woke up at night and realized how quiet it was: no sirens, no cars, no airplanes, no helicopters, no horn-based alerts when the neighbor’s son comes home from partying at 2 a.m. Curious, I fired up my Faber Sound Meter 4 app on my phone and measured the ambient noise at 33.7 C-weighted decibels. It was so quiet that the sound meter said there wasn’t enough data to report an A-weighted measurement. (I don’t understand the technical details of why this wouldn’t work.) Unweighted decibels measured 35.4.

Why is this important? Sleep disruption causes a stress response, a neuroendocrine response with increases in stress hormones and a parasympathetic nervous system response, with increased blood pressure and pulse. These involuntary physiological responses are what cause the increased morbidity and mortality reported from transportation noise exposure (and are discussed by Hammer, et al., and Basner, et al.). Yes, the experts think the evidence is strong enough to support a statement of causality, not just a statistical association or correlation. Even sounds as low as 32-35 decibels can disrupt sleep, causing microarousals as measured by EEG monitoring.

And now I know the answer to my question.  How quiet should it be? At night the natural sound level should be under 40 decibels, probably under 35 decibels, and not urban nighttime noise levels of 55 to 65 decibels.

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.

How City Noise is Slowly Killing You

Photo credit: Mdanser (public domain)

Andrea Bartz, Harper’s Bazaar, dispenses with the niceties and cuts to the quick with her recent article on the consequences of urban noise. In her well-linked piece, she writes about “the number-two threat to public health, after air pollution,” and it’s effect on our health. She begins by focusing on the known universe of horribles that are triggered by the relentless assault of noise in cities, namely “[c]ancer, heart disease, obesity and myriad other conditions” that are exacerbated by stress, adding that the “constant gush of stress hormones actually restructures the brain, contributing to tumor development, heart disease, respiratory disorders, and more.”

And the problems don’t end with health consequences. Bartz speaks to Arline Bronzaft, PhD, an environmental psychologist who has been a noise activist for over four decades. Bronzaft states that “[e]ven if you don’t have health problems yet, you’ll have diminished quality of life [from noise pollution].” A diminished quality of life includes bouts of interrupted sleep, interference with cognitive tasks, and elevated stress hormones. As Bronzaft notes, “[b]y dealing with the sounds of the city, you’re using up energy, which is costly to your body.”

Bartz says that our parents didn’t have it so bad, and turns to Bart Kosko, Ph.D., a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California and the author of Noise, who asserts that “[c]ell phones are largely to blame.” Why? Because someone talking on the cell phone “imposes a type of sonic nuisance on those nearby,” which “gets worse when several people talk on cell phones” and they compete with each other to “maintain the same signal-to-noise ratio as the level of crosstalk noise grows.” This is known as the Lombard effect.

Street noise is worse too, as an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli shows that the number of noise complaints in New York City more than doubled in the last five years. But the audit also shows that there are few real repercussions for violators, even for clubs and bars racking up hundreds of complaints.

So what can be done? Bartz writes of people (of means) turning to self-help measures like “digital detox” packages for a noise detoxification. But for those who can’t afford an escape to a desert island or world-class spa, what are our options? Bartz gets some practical advice from Bronzaft and Kosko, and she writes about Quiet Mark, which identifies quiet consumer products with a seal of approval and encourages manufacturers to prioritize noise reduction in product design.

But in the end it is obvious that a noise detox or a quieter dishwasher can’t achieve the kind of results that effective government regulation could. While her article is mostly spot on, we wish that Bartz had addressed what government could do to control noise. So here’s hoping that Bartz is working on Part II of a series, with the second piece focusing on what government could do to control and regulate noise, and what we must do to make them do it.

 

 

 

 

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Need a little help falling asleep? Help is on the way:

The Best White Noise Apps & Sites. Lisa Poisso, Techlicious, reviews websites and apps offering pink noise generators for better sleep as well as options to enhance concentration and focus when you are adrift in a sea of noise.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

Anemic? See your doctor and get your iron tablets, stat:

Iron Deficiency Anemia Tied to Hearing Loss.  Iron deficiency anemia should be relatively easy to manage. So see your doctor, get a blood test, and manage your anemia.

That said, Dr. Daniel Fink, a leading noise activist, cautions that the study appears to be a preliminary one. The study reviewed data from approximately 300,000 deidentified adult patient records at Milton K. Hershey Medical Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The diagnosis of hearing loss was made by mention of one or more diagnostic codes for hearing loss on at least one encounter. The diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia was made from laboratory tests. Then statistical analyses were performed. No audiometric tests were done, and the prevalence of hearing loss was much lower than that reported in other studies.  Dr. Fink thinks this report might help guide future research, but the fact remains that noise exposure, not iron deficiency anemia, is the major cause of hearing loss in the United States.

A little self-help can’t hurt

In light of the recent study linking traffic noise to an increased risk of acquiring dementia, this article is a must read: How To Reduce Noise Pollution At Home.

Of course, one would hope that governments would think about how best to limit noise after reading that frightening study.  The medical costs alone should be enough to motivate even the most dispassionate bean counter.  But until they do, we really must take matters into our own hands and try to make our homes as peaceful and noise free as possible.

Link via @QuietMark.

 

Age doesn’t matter,

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.