Tag Archive: hearing protection

If it makes more noise than a rake, protect your hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just published this fact sheet about protecting your hearing when doing yard care. All power tools, whether gasoline or electric, make enough noise to damage hearing. In general, electric tools are quieter than those powered by two-stroke gasoline engines, and they also don’t produce noxious and toxic gaseous emissions.

One of the big technological advances in yard care in the last year or two is the widespread availability of powerful battery-powered yard care equipment, including leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, even lawnmowers. These are now available online or in any of the big-box home improvement stores. There’s no need to worry about extension cords or shock hazards.

Other than my wife, children, and grandchildren, gardening is my first love. From 2005-2014 I served on the board of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, Inc. When I was termed out from that service, I became a noise activist, focused on trying to make the world a quieter place. But I’d much rather be quietly working in my garden.

Raking leaves, trimming a plant, or pulling a weed, using hand tools as gardeners have done for centuries, is quiet and contemplative.

Only rarely will I use an electric pole trimmer to cut pesky branches that I can’t reach without getting on a ladder, but I’ll put in my earplugs first. Because if a yard care tool is louder than a rake or a pruning shears, it’s loud enough to cause hearing loss.

So when you are doing yard work, use earplugs or earmuff hearing protection now to avoid hearing aids later. And if you hire someone to maintain your landscape, insist that the workers are provided hearing protection. They are at special risk for hearing loss as well as other noise-related health problems.

Thanks to our friends at the CDC for helping educate the public about the dangers of 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.

Is noise pollution harming your health?

Photo credit: wp paarz licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is noise pollution harming your health? That’s the question Prof. Richard Neitzel, PhD, asks in this article for the BottomLineInc. Prof. Neitzel is associate chair and associate professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Noise pollution is similar to air pollution, except that both the public and health professionals are generally unaware of the non-auditory health effects of noise. These include cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and increased mortality.

And of course, noise can cause hearing loss. Prof. Neitzel’s research has shown that everyday noise exposure is great enough to cause hearing loss.

Personal hearing protection, i.e., earplugs, can help prevent hearing loss, but making the environment quieter will require government action.

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.

Is a personal noise alert system needed?

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Silencity received a comment to my recent blog post about hearing protection asking if a noise alert system could be developed to let people know when they were encountering dangerous noise levels.

There are wall-mounted devices available, but I don’t know of any personal noise warning device, either for occupational use or for the public. Such a device or smartphone app would be nice but I don’t think it’s needed. Why?

For some time I have been ending posts with the line, “If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.” And that advice is why one doesn’t need a noise alert system. If you think a noise is too loud, you’re probably right.

For sure, if a noise hurts your ears, even if it doesn’t bother someone else, it’s too loud for you.  There are clearly variations in sensitivity to noise, but you need to protect your hearing, not someone else’s.

And if a noise exposure causes temporary ringing in the ears or muffling of hearing, that’s a definite sign that the noise was too loud.

For noise levels that aren’t quite that high, a simple and easy rule of thumb is that if you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 70-75 A-weighted decibels.

And that’s why you don’t need a noise warning device. Depending on your belief system, God, Mother Nature, or Darwinian evolution already gave you one!

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 protect your hearing

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This short piece in The Guardian gives sound advice on how to protect your hearing. The Guardian reporter interviewed audiologist Gemma Twitchen, from the UK advocacy group Action on Hearing Loss, about how people can avoid damaging their hearing while listening to loud music, going to the cinema, or taking public transportation, among other activities.

Twitchen says that “[m]any new devices display the safe sound level and warn if you go above that,” and encourages readers to keep an eye on the reading.  She adds that noise-canceling headphones allow users to listen to music at lower volumes. This is important, because as Twitchen notes, temporary auditor symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent auditory damage will probably occur with repeated exposure.

I would go a step further and say that there probably is no such thing as temporary auditory damage and any symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent damage has already occurred. But I agree entirely with the audiologist’s advice to wear hearing protection.

And as we have been saying for a while, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Protect your hearing today to preserve it for tomorrow.

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 review of ear muff hearing protection devices

Photo credit: Hunting Mark licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition does not endorse products, but does try to let people know about effective hearing protection devices. This article at NoisyWorld reviewing and rating ear  muffs may be helpful for two reasons: 1) it explains the science behind the Noise Reduction Rating measurements, and 2) it educates the reader about ear muff style hearing protection, discussing the pros and cons of several different models.

Of course, there are many more options than just those discussed in this article. Full-size ear muffs are big and bulky but they may be more comfortable than earplugs for longer-term use, while folding ear muffs may be easier to carry to loud sporting events.

A photographer once said to me, “the best camera is the one you have with you when the great shot is before your eyes.”

And the best hearing protection is what you are wearing when the ambient noise is too loud.

For certain situations–a subway commute, a noisy office, or prolonged work in a noisy environment or with noisy power tools–ear muffs may be the best option.

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.

Americans aren’t protecting their hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This newly published article from the CDC reports that 1) noise-induced hearing loss from non-occupational noise exposure is common in American adults, 2) recreational activities including sports and musical events are loud enough to damage hearing, and 3) very few American adults use earplugs or earmuffs–“hearing protective devices” in public or occupational health lingo–to protect their hearing.

This is a shame. Hearing loss is largely caused by noise exposure, and noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud. Either turn down the volume, leave the noisy venue, wear earplugs or earmuff hearing protective devices, or wear hearing aids later.

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.

The best ear protection for babies and toddlers

Photo credit: Fimb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As a newly minted grandfather, I worry even more about the world and the future, and what it will hold for our grandson and for all children and grandchildren, especially about keeping him safe and healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have lots of advice about avoiding sun exposure, but little to nothing about avoiding noise exposure.

This report reviews four earmuff-style hearing protective devices–that’s the correct term, not headphones–that are good for babies and toddlers.

A few quibbles. The article doesn’t state how these were evaluated. NIOSH and OSHA evaluate hearing protective devices and assign a Noise Reduction Rating-NRR, but this evaluation appears to be the opinion of one audiologist.

And while I’m glad that the industrial-strength 85 decibel sound exposure level wasn’t mentioned as the noise level at which hearing damage occurs, the 70 decibel standard cited may be too low. Sound above 70 decibels for short time periods probably won’t cause hearing loss. It’s a time-weighted average sound exposure of 70 decibels for the whole day that prevents noise-induced hearing loss. Noise dose calculators like this one can help one understand what constitutes safe noise exposures.

More information about noise and children’s hearing is provided by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Parents and grandparents should remember that to protect children’s hearing, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Common recreational activities, including using certain toys, birthday and other parties with amplified music, sports events, air shows, car races, and children’s action movies, are often dangerously loud.

And headphones should probably not be used by children for personal music players or digital devices, with or without an 85 decibel volume limit.

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.

Disturb everyone else with your noise, but protect yourself

Oh the irony.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, the Quiet Coalition

This report at Motorcycle.com lists earplugs good for motorcycle riders.

The idea of protecting your own hearing, while bothering and deafening others with your motorcycle’s noise, is ironic.

Riding a motorcycle is a dangerous pastime, and many riders believe that a louder motorcycle is a safer one because drivers of other vehicles can hear them. Most experts, however, think that’s really not true and posit that many riders just like to make as much noise as possible to show how profoundly anti-social they are.

What they–and most police departments–don’t know is that there are state and federal laws regulating motorcycle exhaust noise, and the best way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss is to reduce the noise level at its source.

So rather than offering advice on protecting hearing to those who would impose their noise on the rest of us, Motorcycle.com, why not tell your readers to respect others by removing the illegal straight-pipe exhaust systems they put on their bikes?

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.