Tag Archive: hearing loss

Australians are in danger of hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the National Acoustic Laboratory at Australia’s Macquarie University found that 1 in 10 Australians used personal listening devices (PLDs) at dangerously high volumes.

Not surprisingly, those who reported using the devices at high volumes also reported more difficulty hearing things.

Only the abstract is available without a subscription, so I can’t comment on details of the study, which would be stronger if actual hearing tests had been done on the subjects, but the final line of the abstract is one that I agree with entirely:

Although PLD use alone is not placing the majority of users at risk, it may be increasing the likelihood that individuals’ cumulative noise exposure will exceed safe levels.

And that’s the problem with studies focusing just on personal listening device use. They are only one small part of the total daily noise dose. Flamme, et al., found that 70% of adults in Kalamazoo County, Michigan received total daily noise doses exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe noise limit of 70 decibels time weighted average for a day. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported that almost 25% of American adults had noise-induced hearing loss, many if not most without occupational exposure.

As the CDC states, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. No noise, no hearing loss.

Protect your ears now and you won’t need hearing aids later.

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.

Eric Clapton has tinnitus and is losing his hearing

 

Photo credit: Majvdl licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

And so he told BBC Radio while promoting his new documentary, “Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars.” Every pop culture site has reported some version of this story, but not one asks why or how he has tinnitus and hearing loss, even as the Variety piece linked above notes:

Clapton isn’t the only musician who’s dealt with tinnitus. The Who’s Pete Townshend has also discussed his own problems with the condition and hearing loss.

Townshend did more than that–he pointed his finger squarely at earphones used in studio as the cause of his hearing loss and expresses concern about earbud exposure among the youth.

Perhaps music and entertainment magazine should look into how and why music icons are suffering hearing loss and educate their audience on how to avoid the same fate.

This new year resolve to avoid products that damage health (even when used as directed)!

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If something is worth doing, why wait to do it until January 1. But many people do, so here is one suggestion:

Avoid products that damage your health or the health of others when used exactly as directed.

What are these products? I can think of three: tobacco products, firearms, and earbuds or headphones using 85 decibels as a safe volume limit (without any exposure time recommended). 85 decibels isn’t a safe volume limit. It’s an occupational noise exposure standard that even with strict time limits doesn’t prevent hearing loss in all exposed workers.

If you believe in New Year’s resolutions, one of your’s should be this: I won’t use products that when used as directed damage my health or the health of others.

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.

Loud music is just as addictive as smoking

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from New Zealand states that loud music is just as addictive as smoking.

The only quibble I have with the report is that it states that hearing loss begins at an 85 decibel exposure and that 85 decibels is a safe volume limit for children. Neither statement is correct. Both I and the NIOSH Science Blog have written about how the 85 decibel standard is an occupational standard that should not be used a a safe noise exposure standard for the general public.

But the basic premise of the report–that noise exposure from personal music player use by children is causing hearing loss–is sound.

So break the habit, and lower the volume. Your ears will thank you.

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.

Will earbuds ruin my hearing?

Photo credit: Marcus Quigmire licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The headline for this article in Time magazine is “Will earbuds ruin my hearing?” The short answer is that it’s not the earbuds or headphones that damage hearing, but the noise emanating from them. The longer answer follows.

The article widely cites Dr. Robert Dobie at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio who says that earbud use isn’t a problem.

It also cites Harvard researcher Dr. M. Charles Liberman, who, with Dr. Sharon Kujawa, discovered the phenomenon now known as hidden hearing loss. This is damage to nerve junctions (synapses) in the ear, called hidden because it is not detected by standard hearing tests.

Dr. Liberman says that earbud use might be a problem.

Dr. Dobie’s assertion that earbud use isn’t a problem sounds just like the doctors in the 1950s and 1960s who insisted that smoking cigarettes wasn’t harmful to health. We now know differently.

My conclusion is that noise causes hearing loss. The human ear was not designed to withstand loud noise exposure because such a tolerance offered no evolutionary advantage. As I wrote in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 decibels time-weighted average for a day. I further explained, in a requested blog post for AJPH, that the real safe noise exposure level is probably lower than that.

We know, from decades of research on occupational noise exposure that led to the occupational safety criteria for noise exposure, from the work of Liberman and colleagues, and from hundreds or thousands of studies showing that noise damages hearing in animals and humans with the cellular and sub-cellular mechanisms of how this occurs now precisely understood that noise causes hearing loss.

If you believe Dr. Dobie, continue to listen to your personal music player using earbuds or headphones.

If you don’t want hearing aids when you are older (and I don’t think hearing loss is part of normal aging, as I said at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zürich in June 2017) my advice is not to use earbuds.

Your ears are like your eyes or your knees. God only gave you two of them. Protect them and keep them safe and working well your entire life.

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.

Are we placing people with hearing loss at the heart of the design process?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

That’s the question asked in this report from the UK publication Planning & Building Control Today.

And the answer? In a word, “No.”

The needs of those with auditory disorders–hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis–and other conditions such as dementia, autism, attention disorders, and neurocognitive disorders, are not considered in most building projects.

Acoustic consultants are only called in afterwards, when a problem becomes apparent, if at all.

In the U.S., the Facilities Guidance Institute does provide some criteria for acoustic issues in health care facilities but much more needs to be done, in restaurants, malls, retail stores, and transportation hubs, for those with auditory and other problems affected by ambient noise.

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.

Will the nation’s young be obese with hearing loss, too?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I recently read a report via AMA Wire citing a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that estimates 57% of today’s young people will be obese by age 35. One wonders how many of them, after two or three decades of listening to music from tablets or personal music players using ear buds or headphones, will also suffer hearing loss.

As long as the regulators are asleep at the wheel, and the American Association of Pediatrics fails to adequately educate parents about the dangers of hearing loss from noise exposure, I guess we’ll find out in a few decades as today’s children sign up to be fitted with hearing aids. Despite concerns about earbud and headphone abuse among children, the AAP doesn’t have sufficient information about the dangers of noise exposure for children on its healthychildren.org website.

And, meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has declined to take action on the basis of false advertising for headphones marketed as “safe” for hearing of children as young as age three using an 85 decibel volume limit, even though a 85 A-weighted decibels is an occupational noise exposure standard–meant for adult workers–and A-weighting usually reduces measured sound levels by 5-7 decibels. The pediatricians say nothing about these unsafe headphones.

Twenty to thirty years from now, will today’s children wonder why the government and medical professionals sat on their hands and watched as they slowly destroyed their hearing, doing little or nothing to protect those who didn’t know better on their own?

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.

85 decibels is not a safe sound level for anyone, particularly children

Photo credit: Luis Marina licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It’s very frustrating to see headphones advertised as safe for children when they use the 85 decibel noise exposure standard without specifying a time limit. It shouldn’t be surprising, though, as even the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states, “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.”

But 85 decibels is not a safe noise level without a time exposure limit. I wrote about this in the American Journal of Public Health in January 2017. This 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) exposure standard is an occupational standard: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that workers get no more than 85 A-weighted decibels noise exposure, calculated for an average working life of 8 hours a day, 240 days a year, for 40 years. Even that exposure level doesn’t prevent all exposed workers from hearing loss. A-weighting reflects the frequencies heard by the human ear and A-weighting almost always lowers the sound measurement by 5-7 decibels. The decibel scale is a logarithmic scale, which means that 3 decibels more indicates a doubling of sound energy, and it is sound energy that destroys the cochlear hair cells, the basic sensory organ for hearing.

For children who may start using headphones as early as three years old, 40-years exposure to 85 decibels delivered directly to their ears via headphones means that they may be profoundly hearing impaired in their mid 40s. That’s not a good thing.

I suppose headphones with the occupational noise exposure level, A-weighted or not, as a volume limit are better than headphones without any volume limit. But
parents and grandparents would be wise to avoid getting their little darlings these unsafe headphones, or any headphones, unless they want to buy them hearing aids when they get older.

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 3D printing could help treat a rare form of hearing loss

Photo credit: Jonathan Juursema licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

We are always happy to hear about tech solutions that may help those with medical conditions like hearing loss, particularly as there is no known cure or effective treatment for hearing loss today. So reading about how University of Maryland Medical School researchers are looking at 3D printing “to create implants for ossicular conductive hearing loss” is exciting. No doubt this is thrilling news for the 3%-5% of people who suffer with this form of hearing loss.

But one hopes that the desire to find and adopt a tech solution for everything doesn’t distract us from an inarguably cheaper and simpler solution for dealing with future hearing loss cases. Namely, limiting the number of people who suffer with noise-induced hearing loss and other hearing conditions by reducing noise to preserve natural hearing.

Today, the only treatment available to people who have hearing loss is hearing aids, and as Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, has written, hearing aids are a poor substitute for natural hearing. So a better solution for people who already have hearing loss is welcome news, but let’s not lose sight that we can take steps now to reduce the numbers of people with significant hearing loss without spending a lot of time and money looking for a technical solution.

As for what you can do to protect yourself and your family this holiday season, think about throwing a pair of ear plugs in the kids’ stockings and lowering the volume of holiday music. Give them a gift that will last a lifetime.

Transit noise can damage your hearing

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article out of Toronto reports that transit noise can make you deaf. The author of the article, and the underlying study on which it’s based, are right. And not just in Toronto, but in other cities with noisy public transit systems, especially New York City.

But there is one statement in the article with which I disagree:

Lin said the concern is with peak exposures, which in some of the testing, measures way above the 85-decibel limit for safe prolonged exposure with some occurrences checking in as high as 115 decibels.

Simply put, 85 decibels is not a safe limit for prolonged noise exposure. At that exposure level, after 40 years of occupational exposure–8 hours a day, 240 days a year, for 40 years–at least 8% of workers will have excess hearing loss.

As I wrote in the January 2017 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, 85 decibels is not a safe noise level for the public. And the concept of excess hearing loss assumes that hearing loss with age is normal, when it isn’t. Without noise damage, good hearing should be preserved well into old age. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for 24 hours. The NIOSH Science Blog on February 8, 2016, also addressed this topic.

Auditory damage starts at noise exposure levels as low as 75 A-weighted decibels. This is called the auditory injury threshold. I don’t know about Canadians, but most U.S. citizens get deafening total daily noise doses, as reported by Flamme and colleagues. This is the reason the Centers for Disease Control reported in February 2017 that 24% of U.S. adults age 20-69 have noise-induced hearing loss.

I am convinced that there is already an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss that is only going to get worse when today’s young people reach middle age. The occupational noise exposure studies on which the 85 decibel occupational noise exposure standard used a 40 year occupational exposure. When toddlers as young as 3 years old use headphones marketed as safe for hearing using the 85 decibel occupational standard as a safe noise exposure level, they are likely to be severely hard of hearing when only in their 40s, if not earlier.

Hearing is an important sense, and hearing aids don’t work as well at helping users understand speech as many think. And the consequences of suffering hearing loss are severe and life changing. As Helen Keller said, “[b]lindness separates people from things, [but] deafness separates people from people.”

Transit riders and everyone else should protect their hearing now.

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.