Tag Archive: hearing loss

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.

What are the best workout headphones?

Photo credit: CherryPoint licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What are the best workout headphones? In my considered opinion, none. This review of workout headphones mentions noise-induced hearing loss, but misuses the 85 decibel (dBA, A-weighted decibels) occupational noise exposure as the safe listening limit.

There is a common belief that music improves athletic performance, and the louder the music the better the effort. But I have been unable to find any scientific articles supporting this belief, unless it is music with a particular beat or rhythm which, for example, might help a runner keep a steady pace.

On the other hand, the dangers of noise for hearing loss are supported by decades of scientific work and thousands of articles in peer-reviewed journals.

So skip the headphones–you can be very fit without losing your hearing.

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.

Headphones for kids: What you should know

Photo credit: ExpectGrain licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This post at SoundGuys discusses choosing headphones for kids. The author discusses a variety of considerations, including many that lead me to my opinion about headphones for kids:

Headphone use should be limited to those old enough to understand the dangers of hearing loss. Giving a younger child a pair of headphones–volume limited or not–is like giving a toddler a beer or a 9-year-old a pack of cigarettes. No one does that.

It takes years to decades of noise exposure to produce hearing loss as measured by standard audiometric techniques, but the reports of hearing loss at very early ages associated with headphone use have already begun to appear. A Dutch study in June 2018 reported increased hearing loss another auditory problems in children as young as 9 to 11, compared to those who didn’t use headphones to listen to personal music devices.

I’m not sure exactly when the idea evolved that everyone, including toddlers as young as 3, needs to entertained by audio or visual material for almost every waking hour, but I can guarantee that generations of children were raised to adulthood quite successfully without these devices. Perhaps headphone use should be regulated like driving, smoking, or drinking, each of which has an age limit at which the behavior is allowed. In the U.S., the age requirement for driving varies from 15 or so to 18 depending on the state, 18 for smoking, and 21 years old for drinking.  Laws are different in Europe and Asia, but to my knowledge there are no laws or regulations restricting headphone use or personal music device use anywhere in the world.

In the old days–whenever that was, but certainly up to a decade or two ago–children either entertained themselves by playing with blocks or toys or dolls, or were entertained by friends, parents, and others. As children got older, they entertained themselves with coloring books, and then by reading. At a meal or waiting in a line or when traveling, parents and children interacted, whether it was the parent making up a story for the toddler, or the slightly older child telling the parent or grandparent a story, or looking at and talking about what was outside the window of the car, bus, train, or airplane. Or people read books. Now I see families sitting in a restaurant with each person wearing earbuds, looking at a smart phone or listening to some content on it, instead of interacting with each other.

This can’t be good for personal and social development. It can’t be good for developing ties among family members and others. And I can guarantee that it is not good for hearing–headphone use in children will cause hearing loss in adults.

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 CDC is trying to prevent heart attacks. When will it try to prevent hearing loss?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Centers for Disease Control has embarked on a public education campaign to reduce preventable cardiovascular mortality. They are calling it Million Hearts. Among the things people can do to prevent heart disease and fatal heart attacks are what CDC is calling “the ABCs”: a daily baby aspirin (unless there are medical reasons not to take it), blood pressure control, cholesterol control, and not smoking. Other actions include exercising, maintaining an ideal body weight, and eating a healthy diet.

Thanks to the Framingham Study, we know that heart disease and stroke are not part of normal aging but are largely preventable. Similarly, hearing loss is not part of normal aging but largely represents noise-induced hearing loss.

So when will CDC embark on a similar campaign to educate the public about preventing hearing loss? I suggest calling it the Million Ears campaign. Maybe Ten Million Ears.

A common saying is “nobody dies from going deaf,”* but that isn’t true. Hearing loss is associated with social isolation, falls, depression, and dementia in older people, all of which in turn are correlated and most likely causally related to increased mortality. Hearing loss also has major impacts on enjoyment of life and social function.

And unlike preventing heart disease and stroke, preventing noise-induced hearing loss is much easier–just avoid loud noise and wear hearing protection if you can’t.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

* The phrase “nobody dies from going deaf” is what is commonly said. The word “deaf,” however, usually denotes congenital hearing loss or severe hearing loss. The term “hearing loss” is more appropriately used for mild to moderate noise-induced hearing loss.

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.

How to prevent hearing loss when using headphones

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Here is another article about the dangers of using headphones for hearing. I disagree with the author’s statement that “[t]here’s nothing inherently dangerous about using headphones.” That reminds me of statements in the 1950s and early 1960s that asserted there was nothing inherently dangerous about smoking cigarettes.

I think headphones and earbuds are inherently dangerous and shouldn’t be used except for noise-cancelling headphones used in noisy situations such as aircraft cabins.

Very few headphone users worry much about the sound volume when listening to music or a podcast or book, and the natural tendency is to turn up the volume enough to be able to hear what one is listening to. There is no meter on the personal audio device to let one know what the audio output is in decibels. And there is no audio dosimeter installed on most personal audio devices, be they MP3 players or smart phones, to let the user know the time-weighted average sound exposure that day or week from the device. Even if one has this type of dosimeter–several are reportedly in the development stage–they don’t measure all noise exposure, so they may give a false sense of security.

The other quibble with this article, from the UK, is that it uses the UK and EU occupational noise exposure standard of 80 decibels as a safe noise exposure level. The UK standard is technically 80 dBA, which is safer than the 85 dBA standard used in the U.S., but it is not a safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 dB for 24 hours, and even that may be too high.

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.

Headphone volume may cause harm to hearing

Photo credit: Kaboompics .com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Here is yet another report, this time from Baylor University, that headphone use may cause harm to hearing.

I agree with everything stated in the report except for the assertion that 85 decibels is the dangerous sound level. This standard is derived from occupational noise exposure levels, and in 2016, NIOSH reiterated that this is not a safe noise exposure level for the public.

And headphone use may be different because the sound source is only millimeters away from the ear drum, with the external auditory canal being even shorter in children than in adults.

Personally, I would advise against the use of headphones and ear buds, period.  If you insist on using them keep in mind that if you can’t hear ambient noise when listening to content or music using headphones or earbuds, the volume is too high and is almost certainly causing hearing loss.

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.

Can preventing hearing loss now prevent dementia later?

Photo credit: Monica McGivern licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We have written about this report before but important news bears repeating: A study using functional MRI techniques found that relatively young people with very mild hearing loss were using parts of their brain not normally used to try to understand speech. The researchers think that this added stress on the brain now may lead to an increased rate of dementia later.

The relationship between hearing loss and dementia is being studied in many ways. It has long been known that there was a correlation between hearing loss and dementia, with studies showing that people with worse hearing are more likely to develop dementia.

And one large study is trying to see if giving hearing aids to older people with hearing loss prevents dementia.

But it’s a whole lot easier–both a whole lot better, and a whole lot cheaper–to just avoid hearing loss by avoiding loud noise now. Hearing loss, after all, is not an inevitable part of aging.

Remember: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

How loud is too loud?

Photo credit: Your Best Digs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

How loud is too loud? Probably between 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and 75 dBA, the auditory injury threshold, not the occupational noise exposure limit of 85 decibels cited in this article.

We are glad to see any publication warning about the dangers of noise and advocating use of hearing protective devices, as earplugs and earmuff hearing protectors are more broadly known, but this piece just gets the basic science wrong.

As the NIOSH Science Blog discussed in 2016, an occupational noise exposure limit is not a safe noise level for the public.

Smart phone sound level meter apps provide good to very accurate sound level measurements, but you really don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud.

If it’s loud enough that you have to strain to speak or to be heard–a typical noise level when using power equipment or tools, hair dryers, kitchen mixers, or eating in many restaurants–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is being damaged.

And certainly if the sound level is loud enough to cause momentary pain or discomfort, or subsequent muffling or sound or ringing in the ears, you are on your way to hearing loss.

It’s easy to protect your hearing for your whole life. If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Avoid loud noise or use hearing protective devices, or need hearing aids. The choice is yours.

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.

More study needed on hearing loss among preschool teachers

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

As an educator, psychologist and researcher on the effects of noise on children’s learning, I have been long interested in the sounds to which children and teachers are exposed to in the classroom. While the literature is indeed plentiful on the dangers of loud sounds and noise to the hearing of young children, as well as to the impacts of noise to their cognition and learning abilities, and my own writings have noted that noise in the classroom disrupts teaching, little has been said about the impacts of loud sounds and noise to which teachers of young children are exposed.

Now we have this study from Sweden that has found hearing-related problems in preschool women teachers that is considerably higher than would be expected. I am looking forward to reading the published study of this paper to learn more about the methodology and specific findings but still, based on this report, would suggest that there be additional studies in other countries, including the U.S. If indeed these findings hold up, then the design of schools with a special emphasis on the acoustics must be given greater thought as the article suggests.

And better school design would also benefit the students. Groups of children tend to be noisy but even here the sound levels can be lessened with appropriate interventions and children can also be taught the importance of being quieter in reading sessions and at times when they read or draw on their own at their desks.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Loud music listened to on headphones is causing hearing loss in children

Photo credit: Gordon licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My main noise issue is restaurant noise, but I have learned about other noise issues, too. When I figured out that the oft-cited 85 decibel standard is an occupational noise exposure standard, and not a safe noise exposure standard for the public, I sent emails and letters to the audiologists quoted in media reports. When I realized that 85 decibels was used as a safe volume limit for headphones marketed for toddlers as young as 3 years, I called this to the attention of pediatricians, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control. My efforts, sadly, have thus far been unsuccessful.

My worries were based on theoretical concerns. There was no way that loud noise without a time exposure limit could be safe for children. Now this report documents that the hearing loss I was worried about isn’t a theoretical concern any more. Namely, the news article writes about a study conducted by Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, in which scientists “studied more than 5,000 children aged nine to 11-years-old over three years, found one in seven of the youngsters had suffered some hearing loss.”

The study is preliminary. The hearing tests were done as part of a study of normal child development in Rotterdam, but not specifically to determine whether personal music player use caused hearing loss. More than 5,000 children were enrolled in the study, but complete hearing tests were available for only about 3,000, and personal music player use was assessed by parental report. Despite these limitations, the study found that 14% of the children, now just under 11 years old, had some type of hearing impairment.

That said, one must ask what is causing this early onset hearing loss. The researchers believe the cause may be children’s use of headphones to listen to portable music players.

Maybe this will spur regulatory authorities into action. At the very least, parents and grandparents can take these headphones away from their little darlings, and give them instead the gift of continued good hearing.

The problem with headphones isn’t just hearing loss. As a parent and soon to be grandparent, I know that talking with children and listening to what they say–almost from the time they are born–is one of the most important ways to teach them words and language, to establish a relationship with them, and to educate them about the world. Giving the child a personal music player or video player and headphones can occupy the child for hours–it’s certainly easier than carrying books and reading them to the child, or giving the child a paper and crayons, or playing with dolls or trucks or Legos–and it allows the parent to watch or listen to his or her own cellphone or personal electronic device, but it probably isn’t the best thing for the child, either.

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 board from 2015-2018.