Tag Archive: health

Is the modern soundscape damaging our health?

Photo credit: Luis Dalvan from Pexels

Listen to Part 1 of a fascinating two-part series on the impact of city noise on our health by 99% Invisible, a podcast that focuses on “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”  Part 1 looks at our soundscape and how much of it is created without much thought.

The show interviews an interesting mix of people, including design critic Kate Wagner who notes that the sound of cars has a huge impact.  “It’s inescapble,” she laments, adding that car sounds “drown out other things like bird song, human speech, the rustling of leaves, conversation — things that maybe are more personal or that we hold [to have] a higher aesthetic value.”

Dr. Erica Walker discusses the impact of noise on communities, stating that with city sound, volume is not the only thing that bothers. Rather, it’s the character of the sound and, importantly, “whether or not you have control over the situation.” Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how noise affects sleep, agrees, adding  that “health problems come in part from a lack of agency.” “Noise casues stress,” says Basner, “especially if we have little or no control over it.”

Part 1 then looks at how noise in cities discriminates because poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher noise profiles, but notes that if the city has a noise code, those laws tend to get applied more vulnerable, powerless people, particularly in areas undergoing gentrification.

The show concludes with a discussion by Joel Beckerman, a sound designer, who thinks we need a “new approach to sound,” one in which we decide what we want to hear rather than have sound thrust on us.  He calls this new approach “Sonic Humanism.”

Part 1 of this series covered a lot of material in under 20 minutes. It’s well worth listening to.  We will be sure to post about Part 2 when it’s published.

 

 

 

 

 

600,000 Finns affected by traffic noise

Photo credit: Mihis Alex from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As many as 600,000 people in Finland are affected by road traffic noise, according to a report in the journal Ympäristö ja terveys (Environment and Health in English). That is a fairly large number in any case, but Finland is a small country and that’s more than 10% of the population..

The report uses the word “annoys” to describe one of the impacts of road traffic noise on people, but I think the word “disturbs” is more accurate. Unwanted noise, including road traffic noise, doesn’t just bother people, it makes it hard to concentrate, hard to communicate, hard to relax.

And noise is much more than an annoyance.  Exposure to road traffic noise is strongly correlated, probably causally so, with a wide variety of medical conditions, including hypertension  obesity, diabetes and heart attack.

Fortunately, in Finland’s harsh climate, houses are well-insulated and much of the year windows are rarely opened, so road traffic noise is less of a problem than in more temperate climate zones.

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.

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.

Better hearing and sight can help keep memory sharper

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report describes studies showing that giving hard of hearing older patients hearing aids reduced memory loss, as did cataract surgery in another study. It makes sense that more sensory input keeps the brain connections active. There are a number of studies with similar results.

As I get older, I’m intrigued by aging. People of the same chronological age can have dramatically different health profiles, activity levels, and intellectual capabilities. Why? Certainly genetics plays a role, as does diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol intake, and many factors not yet understood. Yet despite our best efforts, we all eventually die. I think the goal should be compression of morbidity, that is, living full and active lives until one gets sick and dies relatively quickly.

That we have treatment of medical problems is great, but prevention is better. This applies to hearing and vision, too.

Avoiding loud noise prevents noise-induced hearing loss, the most common cause of hearing loss in the U.S. and probably in the developed world. There’s some evidence that what is called age-related hearing loss is really noise-induced hearing loss. And cataracts can largely be prevented by avoiding sun exposure and wearing sunglasses when outside.

But there’s no excitement in prevention, and little if any profit to be made for pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and hospitals. So the obviously better option–preventing damage to sight and hearing in the first place–is given short shrift.

Until prevention prevails, make sure your elderly relatives have their hearing and sight checked–hearing aids and cataract surgery might help prevent dementia.

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.

WHO recommends quiet

Photo credit: Leif Jørgensen licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization just issued its new noise guidelines for Europe (pdf). This poster summarizes the 100+ page report which contains the scientific evidence:

The research was done by many of the world’s leading noise experts, and in turn reviewed by more experts who developed these evidence-based noise exposure guidelines.

There can be no rational doubt that noise is a major health problem in Europe and the United States, causing hearing loss, sleep disruption, cardiovascular disease, and death.

We hope the United States will follow the Europe’s example and start dealing with the noise problem, too.

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.

Noise is killing us

Photo credit: Genaro Servín from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wide-ranging essay from New Zealand discusses the many ways noise hurts our health, from hearing loss to diabetes and death.

A quieter environment is better for us all, and it shouldn’t take a superhuman effort to make it happen. Lowering the volume of music in public spaces is an easy first step.

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.

The Toronto Star says “Turn down the volume!”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This editorial in The Toronto Star discusses the adverse health impacts of noise and Toronto’s efforts to work towards quiet.

The Quiet Coalition’s Bradley Vite is quoted, saying “[i]t took decades to educate people on the dangers of second-hand smoke…[w]e may need decades to show the impact of second-hand noise.”

Mr. Vite may be correct. It took too long for those responsible for protecting public health to take action to clear the air in restaurants, stores, workplaces, and buses, planes, and trains. People can still smoke, but not where others are forced to smell or breathe their exhaled smoke involuntarily.

I am confident that if enough people complain to enough elected officials about noise, laws and regulations will be written and enforced to make the world a quieter place.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming. There can be no rational doubt that noise causes hearing loss and has major non-auditory health effects, including sleep disruption, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and death.

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.

Noise kills

Photo credit: Pete G licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Most people, including most doctors, don’t know that noise causes both hearing damage–hearing loss, tinnitus and hyperacusis–as well as a whole host of non-auditory health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and death.

These non-auditory health effects are discussed in this article that reviews the current literature.

The European Union understands the dangers that noise exposure poses, and it is taking steps to protect the public via the Environmental Noise Directive.

If enough Americans make sure their elected representatives know that they are worried about how noise affects us, maybe the U.S. will become quieter and healthier, too.

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.

Noise is bad for children

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One of the nice things about doing a Google search is the serendipity of coming across something else.

I recently saw a mention of a World Health Organization statement that children shouldn’t be exposed to noise above 120 decibels, so I began searching for the source of that statement. While searching, I found this 2009 WHO PowerPoint presentation (pdf) about the adverse health effect of noise on children–not just hearing loss, but hypertension, increases in stress hormone levels, and difficulties learning, among a multitude of other adverse effects. Eventually, I found the 120 decibel recommendation in the WHO 1999 Community Noise Guidelines monograph.

It’s distressing that this information clearly has been known for so long–the pediatric noise hazards for almost a decade, the Community Noise Guidelines for almost two decades—and we still haven’t done anything to protect our children from noise.

With our first grandchild just born, I will renew my efforts to protect children and all people from the dangers of noise. I hope he grows up in a quieter world.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Does noise kill thousands every year?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Richard Godwin in The Guardian discusses the health dangers of noise exposure, including increased mortality. The dangers of noise are well-known in Europe, where the Environmental Noise Directive requires European Union member states to develop and implement government policies to reduce noise exposure for their citizens. Writes Godwin:

Noise exposure has also been linked with cognitive impairment and behavioural issues in children, as well as the more obvious sleep disturbance and hearing damage. The European Environment Agency blames 10,000 premature deaths, 43,000 hospital admissions and 900,000 cases of hypertension a year in Europe on noise. The most pervasive source is road-traffic noise: 125 million Europeans experience levels greater than 55 decibels – thought to be harmful to health – day, evening and night.

Somehow, this body of knowledge has yet to reach this side of the Atlantic Ocean, even though the overwhelming majority of experts think that the scientific evidence is strong enough to establish causality, not merely a correlation or association of noise and health problems.

I am confident that when the public does learn about the dangers of noise for health–not just causing hearing loss, but also hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and death–Americans will also push their elected officials for laws and regulations to achieve a quieter environment.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.