Tag Archive: hearing loss

Hearing loss from recreational sound exposure

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

RECOMMENDATIONS TO REDUCE HEARING LOSS FROM RECREATIONAL SOUND EXPOSURE

This detailed review article by Richard Neitzel, PhD, and Brian Fligor, PhD, in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America discusses the risk of noise-induced hearing loss from recreational sound exposure.

The abstract contains the important conclusions, which are amply supported by the article itself. They are:

  1. The recommended occupational exposure limit is 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA)*. Some exposed workers will develop hearing loss from this noise exposure. To eliminate the risk of hearing loss, a 24 hour average of 70 dB is recommended.
  2. It is possible that occupational noise exposure may have worse impacts on hearing than equal exposures to recreational noise. But the application of statistical hearing loss models developed from occupational noise data to estimate the impacts of recreational noise exposure is nevertheless warranted.
  3. A recreational noise exposure limit of 80 dBA for 8 hours, equivalent to 75 dBA for 24 hours, should prevent hearing loss for adults. For children and other vulnerable individuals, e.g., those who already have hearing loss, the lower exposure level of 75 dBA for 8 hours, or 70 dBA for 24 hours, is appropriate.

Common non-occupational noise exposure sources include public transit, appliances, power tools, personal music players and other personal listening devices, musical instrument practice and performance, concerts, sports events, and parties.

Protecting hearing is simple. Eliminate high noise exposures where possible, increase the distance between you and noise sources around you, and use hearing protection (earplugs or ear muffs).

Because if something sounds too loud, it is too loud, and your hearing is at risk.

*A-weighting adjusts noise measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.
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.

Will our children suffer from hearing loss?

Photo credit: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez  has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Will America’s children suffer from hearing loss in the future like Flint, Michigan’s children are now suffering from neurological damage from lead poisoning? This recent report in The New York Times describes the long-term effects of lead poisoning on children in the Flint schools, and the great costs in trying to deal with these problems now.

The dangers to children’s hearing are well known. These include headphone use, noisy athletic events, noisy parties with amplified music at high volumes, band and musical instrument practices, and the much-too-loud soundtracks for action movies aimed at children.

It’s also well known that when children can’t hear, they have trouble learning. This evidence underlies the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for pediatric hearing screening.

But will those charged with protecting America’s children–the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices among them–do more to prevent America’s children from suffering hearing loss? And when will they do it?

Because prevention of a medical problem is almost always better, cheaper, and more efficient than treating the problem after it has developed.

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.

Are we deafening our children?

Photo credit: M Pincus licesned under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of headphones designed for toddlers and children states that the headphones have “a toddler-safe 75 decibel maximum, a hearing-health friendly 85 decibel maximum, and a louder 94 decibel maximum in-flight mode.” The reviewer goes on to state, “[w]e highly recommend that parents set the volume no louder than the 85 decibel mode for optimal hearing safety.” These statements document a complete misunderstanding of the dangers of loud noise for hearing and of children’s health. These headphones may be safer for children’s hearing than headphones without volume limits, which can put out 100-110 decibels (dB), but they are certainly not safe for children’s hearing.

To my knowledge, there are no studies of noise exposure and hearing loss in children. But children are not small adults, and noise exposure standards derived from studies on adults cannot be applied to them.

The 85 dB standard for safe listening is derived from the 85 A-weighted (dbA)* recommended exposure level for occupational noise. It is not a safe noise exposure for the public. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure limit to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for a day, and even that is probably too much noise exposure to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Let me state my thoughts as clearly as I can: A-weighted decibels typically measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted decibels. The 85 dBA noise exposure standard does not protect all exposed workers from occupational hearing loss over a 40-year work career, even with provision of hearing protection devices, strict monitoring, time limits for exposure, and regular audiograms, backed up by OSHA inspections and workers compensation law. Noise loud enough to deafen factory workers or heavy equipment operators over a 40-year career just isn’t safe for a little toddler’s delicate ears, which must last a whole lifetime, into her or his 80s or 90s.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour exposure to 85 dBA noise because one hour at 85 dBA averages out to 70 dB for the day, even if there is zero noise for the other 23 hours, which is impossible.

In 2018, I was able to get the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority to take action agains Amazon because it was falsely advertising that headphones using the 85 dB volume limit were safe for children’s hearing. The Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices has declined to take enforcement action here, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission declined a request to require warning labels about possible auditory damage on headphones and personal music players. And the American Association of Pediatrics has also declined to issue advice for parents about noise exposure as strong as its recommendations against sun exposure.

Am I falsely alarmed? I don’t think so. A Dutch study in 2018 showed that children age 9-11 who used headphones already had signs of auditory damage, compared to those who didn’t.

Besides, children should be talking with other children, or with parents, grandparents, and others, not listening to music or the soundtracks of their screen devices. A recent study showed that screen time is correlated with brain changes in the tracts involving speech.

My advice to parents: no headphones and limit screen time. Protect your children’s ears and talk to them about why.

*A-weighting adjusts noise measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

“Volume Control,” David Owen’s superb new book

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

David Owen is a wonderful essayist who writes for The New Yorker, so we at The Quiet Coalition were thrilled with his recent piece, “Is Noise Pollution The Next Big Public Health Crisis?” When he interviewed me, he mentioned that he had a book coming out soon on noise and health. It was released on October 29. Called “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World,” Owen leads readers on an odyssey exploring the world of hearing loss in America.

If you are concerned that noise pollution really is the next big public health crisis–the new secondhand smoke–get a copy of this book and read it.

My hope is that Owen’s book will crack open wider public interest in this subject, one that already affects 48 million Americans. If you haven’t already seen Owen’s video on the subject which followed his New Yorker essay, watch it now.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

David Owen’s new book on how noise is destroying our hearing

Photo by Laurie Gaboardi, courtesy of David Owen

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

NPR interviews New Yorker staff writer David Owen about his new book, “Volume Control.” Owen makes several salient points:

  • Hearing loss in old age is the result of cumulative noise exposure.
  • Hearing loss doesn’t just affect hearing, but affects general health and function. People with hearing loss have more frequent hospitalizations, more accidents, and die younger.
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus are the leading service-connected disabilities for military veterans.
  • There is no cure for tinnitus and hyperacusis can be an even worse problem, without treatment or cure.

My advice is that you must protect your hearing. Because if something sounds too loud, it is too loud.

We only have two ears. Wear earplugs now, or hearing aids later.

DISCLOSURE: I was interviewed by David Owen for his The New Yorker article, “Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public-Health Crisis?,” and I am acknowledged in his book.

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.

Will personal music players be the next public health disaster for young people?

Photo credit: Elena Buzmakova(borisova) from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitio

This article in The New York Times details ten years of regulatory dithering while millions of young people became addicted to nicotine through vaping. The health dangers of vaping were clear to many, but political considerations, lawsuits, and perhaps an early lack of clear evidence of harm led to inaction. And now young people, and a few older ones, are being sickened with several dying.

I see a similar situation developing with the widespread use of personal music players by young people.

The Sony Walkman was marketed in 1979, the iPod in 2001, and the now ubiquitous iPhones in 2007 and Androids in 2008. A large number of Americans use personal music players, and surveys find that users listen for several hours a day.  This report citing Nielsen figures says that Americans listen to music 32 hours a week!  That’s 4.5 hours every day. The World Health Organization recommends listening to no more than one hour daily, to prevent hearing loss. Other studies show that some users typically listen to music at high volumes, loud enough to drown out ambient noise.

There has been some media coverage about prolonged exposure to personal music players, but most people don’t seem to be aware of the problem.

I have communicated with the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what I see as a future epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss when today’s young people reach mid-life, after 30-40 years of excessive noise exposure. The CDC has begun a research program into noise and the public and undertaken educational efforts about the dangers of noise on hearing, but as with vaping devices, it’s clear to me that regulatory action is needed and that’s not something CDC does. Education can help change health behaviors, but regulation is much more effective.

Will there be media reports in 2030 or 2040 about the lost opportunity to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.

Unfortunately, then it will be too late to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss. The time for action is now.

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.

A pioneer in protecting musicians and fans from hearing loss

Photo credit: Wendy Wei from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the San Francisco Examiner profiles Kathy Peck, who started advocating for hearing protection at rock concerts before anyone realized that rock concerts were loud enough to cause hearing loss. Peck’s efforts led to her starting the nonprofit Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers, or H.E.A.R., and eventually to the adoption of laws in San Francisco requiring concert venues with a dance floor and capacity for 500 or more to provide earplugs for patrons.

Kudos to Ms. Peck for protecting the hearing of musicians and San Franciscans. Similar laws protecting the public’s hearing should be passed in other cities, 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.

Listening to the crickets

Photo credit: Beckie licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful essay in the New York Times discusses listening to the sounds crickets make at night.

We have crickets where I live, and they can be noisy. I knew that their sounds were made by male crickets rubbing their wings together in hopes of finding a mate, but who knew that crickets have strategies to amplify their sounds?

The main reason to protect our ears is to be able to hear speech, but being able to hear nature’s wonderful sounds is another good reason.

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.

What? 50 years later Woodstock generation dealing with hearing loss

Photo credit: James M. Shelley licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to recent research by the Gallup organization 47% of 65- to 80-year olds who listened to loud music when they were young have hearing loss. That cohort are the Woodstock Generation, for whom loud rock concerts were a way of life.

But now, along with their fans, many of the musicians from the bands of that era, e.g., Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend, have retired because they suffer from painful and incurable auditory conditions caused by noise damage to their ears, like tinnitus or hyperacusis, or they have severe noise-induced hearing loss.

It’s the end of an era. There is no cure for hearing loss, and the only treatment is hearing aids, as cochlear implants are reserved for the profoundly hearing impaired. What’s more, hearing loss is associated with depression, social isolation, dementia, loss of balance, and cardiovascular disease.

Who’d have thought that the “peace & love” kids from the ‘60s & ‘70s would end up this way?

Ironically, in 1969, then-Surgeon General William H. Stewart actually tried to get noise exposure classified as a public health problem. In fact, he helped organize the first international meeting on noise and health. Now, 50 years later, the nation is awakening to what looks like a growing epidemic of hearing loss.

These new Gallup poll findings (funded by a hearing aid company) are consistent with recent federal studies. The sponsor of the Gallup research has a simple and direct message: Buy our hearing aids. But be warned, hearing aids amplify sound but they do a poor job of improving speech comprehension in noisy environments.

So if you are a member of the Woodstock generation, protect what hearing you have left and avoid exposure to loud sounds.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Motorcycle noise can damage riders’ hearing

Photo credit: Sourav Mishra from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Motorcycle noise is a problem for people in many cities, interrupting conversations, disrupting sleep, and being loud enough to cause auditory damage. But motorcycle noise is also a problem for riders. This online piece from a UK insurance agent discusses the dangers of motorcycle noise for riders’ hearing.

Noise comes from both the engine and from air moving past the riders’ ears. Wind screens reduced the noise somewhat, but it is still loud enough to cause hearing loss.

Many motorcycle riders aren’t aware that the noise can damage their hearing. But many of those who know about the dangers of wind and engine noise on their ears don’t want to wear earplugs because they want to hear what’s going on around them.  Riding a motorcycle is hazardous, and riders want to hear other vehicles that may or may not see them.

Filtered ear plugs, which allow transmission of lower frequency sounds while blocking high frequency wind noise, might be a good solution.  The best solution, of course, is to avoid the source of damaging noise, which will also benefit anyone who would rather not be exposed to motorcycle noise.

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.