Tag Archive: hearing injury

Modern life is damaging our ears more than we realize

Photo credit: Global Jet

Rebecca S. Dewey, a research Fellow in Neuroimaging writing for The Conversation, addresses noise exposure, “the main cause of preventable hearing loss worldwide.” She cites a recently published study in The Lancet that “revealed that living in a noisy city increases your risk of hearing damage by 64%.” Why do cities increase the risk so dramatically? Dewey points to obvious sources–work noise at a construction site or recreational noise at a nightclub–but adds that people “might be exposed to loud noises so constantly throughout the day that you don’t even realise they are there.” She also notes that many of us engage in “self-harm”–that is, exposing ourselves via mp3 players and mobile phones to damaging noise levels “with little more than a disclaimer from the manufacturers.”

Why is this a concern? Because of strides researchers have made about how hearing loss develops, aided by the relatively recent discovery of “hidden hearing loss.” Dewey states that it used to be believed that “noise-induced hearing loss resulted from damage to the sound-sensing cells in the cochlea,” but recent studies have shown that “even relatively moderate amounts of noise exposure can cause damage to the auditory nerve – the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain.”

Unfortunately, the standard audiology exam “measures hearing by finding the quietest sound a person can hear in a quiet environment,” but hidden hearing loss affects “the ability to hear subtle changes in loud sounds,” what is called “supra-threshold.” Supra-threshold hearing is used to “understand conversations in a noisy room or hear someone talk over the sound of a blaring television.” In short, a traditional hearing test can’t detect hidden hearing loss, and attempts to measure it by playing a recording of speech masked with background noise “depends a lot on the ability of the patient to understand and cooperate with the test.”

Fortunately, Dewey works on a team at University of Nottingham that is developing an objective test using MRI scans that will “detect hidden hearing loss by scanning the parts of the hearing system that connect the ears to the brain.” The goal is to “understand who is most at risk and act early to prevent further hearing loss.”

And prevention is key, because there currently is no treatment or cure for hidden hearing loss. So do yourself a favor and avoid loud noise when you can, use earplugs when you cannot, and lower the volume on your personal audio devices. One day there will likely be a good treatment available for hearing loss, but no one knows if that day is five, ten, 20, or more years away. Why gamble on a future cure when prevention works today?

Think you’re improving your health by going to a spinning class? Think again:

Study says loud music played during classes may contribute to hearing loss.  , Boston Magazine, reports on a Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary study that found that “the speaker-shaking beats at your local studio may contribute to hearing loss over time.”  According to Duchame, researchers using a smartphone app called SoundMeter Pro found that “[t]he average noise exposure in a single 45-minute cycling class…was more than eight times higher than the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) recommendations for an entire eight-hour work day.”  Duchame notes with alarm “past hypotheses that exercise compounds noise-induced hearing damage,” adding that “[i]nstructors and repeat class attendees, logically, are at highest risk.”

Thanks to @QuietEdinburgh for the link.

What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?

Dr. Daniel Fink, Founding Board Chair of The Quiet Coalition, explains that there are three safe noise levels, depending on which adverse impact of noise you want to avoid. It’s much lower than you think.  Click here to learn more!

 

Is Your Noise Making Me Fat?

Photo credit:

Photo credit: Yukari

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

Is your noise making me fat?  That may seem like a silly question to ask, but there is strong scientific evidence that traffic noise causes obesity.  More specifically, increased traffic noise–whether from highways, airplanes, or trains–is strongly correlated with central obesity.  Central obesity (or “truncal obesity”) is in turn linked with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac disease leading to increased mortality.

Why would noise cause obesity?  The auditory system evolved from vibration sensing mechanisms in primitive organisms which were used to sense predators, or by predators to find food.  Noise perception remains a major warning system, even in mammalian species.  Except for fish, most animals above the phylum Insecta close their eyes when they sleep but cannot close their ears, except for some which swim or dig.  Noise at levels not loud enough to cause hearing loss in humans interferes with sleep, causing a rise in stress hormone levels. These in turn alter carbohydrate and fat metabolism, leading to fat deposition. And that can cause diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn cause heart disease.

A study published in 2015 showed a clear association between noise exposure and central obesity.  Another study published that year showed that noise caused increased heart disease and death.

And 100 million Americans are exposed to noise levels loud enough to cause these problems.

There is probably nothing specific about traffic noise that makes it more likely to cause health problems than any other source of noise, except, perhaps, the factor of unanticipated noise may be important.  It’s just easier to study the effects of traffic noise on humans than asking thousands of people to use personal sound monitors for long periods of time and then collecting and analyzing those data.  Noise is noise.

It’s obviously difficult to measure the non-auditory health impacts of everyday noise exposure–in the streets, in restaurants and stores, at sports events, at concerts–on an individual, but noise has powerful physiologic effects.

So as both noise levels and obesity levels rise in the United States, the answer to the question, “Is YOUR noise making ME fat?” may be “Yes!”

What can we do? For those living near highways, airports, or railroad tracks, double pane windows and wall and attic insulation may provide some protection.  But the best approach to noise is to limit it at its source, which will require political pressure to get laws passed to require quiet, especially nighttime quiet.

After the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded 35 years ago (pdf), noise is largely a local government issue.  So if you want change, you have to speak up for yourself.  One easy step is to look at your local government’s website to see if noise is identified as a constituent issue.  If not, contact your local government representative and ask to speak to him or her about noise problems in your neighborhood or around your workplace.  In addition, an internet search should reveal whether your community has a group that is organized to fight noise in your town (click this link for a map of noise activist and quiet advocacy organizations).  Find out if they are active and go to a meeting to see what they are doing.  If politicians see that an issue is important to constituents, it is in their best interest to address that issue it they want to be re-elected.  If they ignore it, they can be replaced.  An active constituency ensures a responsive politician, at least on the local level.

Noise is omnipresent and insidious.  Because it’s everywhere, people assume that it must be tolerated and cannot be regulated.  But when air pollution became so noticeable and obviously unhealthy that it couldn’t be ignored, government responded with forceful legislation.  As a result, our air is cleaner today than it was in 1970America has gotten noisier and hearing loss in on the increase.  As with air pollution, we need robust government action to regulate noise.  If you care about your health and the health of your family, push back against noise, demand action, and join your neighbors to promote a peaceful, quiet, and healthy environment.

Dr. 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 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.

OSHA announces hearing-protection technology contest winners

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Four inventors have been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration for their innovations in developing technology intended to combat work-related hearing loss.  The winning designs include a custom-fitted earpiece that offered workers protection, wearable sensor technology that detects noise levels, and an interchangeable decorative piece that attaches to silicone earplugs.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

Top Democratic representative seeks study on effects of airplane cabin noise,

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expresses concern about the long-term effects of airplane cabin noise on flight crews.  The Hill reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written a letter to the Government Accountability Office raising concern “regarding permanent hearing loss and damage that airline personnel may suffer from by being exposed to loud noises for long periods of time.”  Representative DeFazio “expressed frustration over the lack of comprehensive data about cabin noise levels even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established noise decibel limits.”  To encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act on his request, The Hill reports that DeFazio “hinted that the results of the study may influence the next long-term reauthorization of the FAA, as the agency’s current legal authority expires next September, and urged “prompt and expedited completion” of the requested report.”

We will follow this story as well as others focusing on citizen complaints about the FAA’s NextGen program.  It looks like some accountability may finally be in the offing.

 

Why is Big Pharm focusing on new treatments for hearing loss and other auditory disorders?

Because they smell money, of course.  And because they sniff a potentially big money-making opportunity, the pharmaceutical industry is racing to find treatments for a host of auditory disorders.  It’s a shame there’s no money in prevention, because noise-induced hearing loss and most cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis are 100% preventable.  So if you don’t have hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis yet, save yourself some cash and limit your exposure to noise now.  Or try your luck and hope that at least one pharmaceutical company finds a cure before you experience symptoms.

 

 

This is fascinating:

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Mercedes-Benz E-Class will blast pink noise at you just before an accident, to protect your ears.  That’s right, in an effort to cut down on “hearing damage caused by the deafening crunch of a car crash,” Mercedes-Benz is going to “blast[] pink noise through the stereo when you’re about to hit something.”  What will the pink noise do?  It will “trigger a fascinating physical response…known as the acoustic reflex, or stapedius reflex – an involuntary muscle contraction in the middle ear that effectively dampens the vibrational energy that’s transferred to the cochlea.”  Essentially, the reflex action will reflect some of the noise from a crash back through the ear drum, thus avoiding the inner ear.  Click the link to learn more.

 

 

 

Is hearing loss inevitable?

Not necessarily.  Debbie Clason, staff writer at Healthy Hearing, introduces her readers to a friend of this site, noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, who is on a mission “to educate the public about safe noise levels in their environment so they can affect positive change in their communities.”  Clason reports:

Dr. Fink doesn’t believe hearing loss is a function of normal physiological aging, citing quieter, primitive societies where hearing acuity is preserved in older adults. He likens attitudes about hearing loss to those about tooth loss in previous generations. Just as natural teeth work better than dentures he says, natural hearing works better than hearing aids.

The article generally discusses noise-induced hearing loss, how it is 100% preventable, and what one can do to avoid it.   It is well worth a click.

 

Just in time for “National Protect Your Hearing Month”:

New research shows young adults at risk for hearing loss.  ABC7NY reports on New York City Health Department data showing that “40% of adults ages 18 to 44 visited loud venues at least a few times per month, [and] 41% of teens who listen to a personal music players with headphones 10 or more hours a week said they listen at maximum volume.”  Both activities, the Department cautions, puts people at risk for hearing loss.  Says Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, “[l]istening to your headphones at high volume or attending loud concerts, restaurants and bars regularly can take a toll on a person’s health and hearing,” and she cautions that technology, in particular, makes it too easy to be exposed to potentially damaging sound.  The Department advises parents to talk to their teenage children about avoiding hearing loss down the road, and suggests sensible measures for limiting exposure to punishing sound.

Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.