Tag Archive: hearing

Portable listening devices are too loud

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This paper in BMC Public Health reports that sound levels from portable listening devices (also called personal music players) are loud enough to damage hearing.

It’s long past time for regulators to take steps to protect the hearing of our young people, who are the predominant users of these devices. What are they waiting for?

I have predicted an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss in young people for three years, since I became a noise activist and learned how damaging noise is for hearing.

So far there are only anecdotal reports of more cases of hearing loss and tinnitus in younger people in their teens, twenties, and thirties, but when the epidemiology reports come out, I will say, “I told you so.”

But that will give scant satisfaction, because it will be too late for those with hearing loss. The damage will have been done, and there is no cure. There is only one certain way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss: avoid loud sound.  Always.

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.

On “hearing” silent images, redux

When we first wrote about the phenomenon of GIFs that people could “hear” last December, we said we couldn’t “hear” the GIF.  But then this article came out with a larger version of the GIF, and, well, yes, it’s loud and clear.

Click the second link and “hear” (or not) for yourself.  And do read the entire piece.  Turns out the reason why one in five of us can hear silent images is that it is a common form of synaesthesia, “the weird sensory cross-over that leads some people to visualise noises or feel smells.”

Too loud: noisy toys can damage a child’s hearing

Photo credit: Terence Ong licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, the Quiet Coalition

This report from a Phoenix, Arizona television station mentions children’s toys that are so loud they can damage hearing. Noise level is an important thing for parents, grandparents, and aunts, uncles, and friends to think about during the holiday season and all year long.

The only thing I disagree with in the report is the statement, “[t]he maximum sound level a child should be exposed to is 85 decibels.” I don’t think there is any scientific basis for this statement. The National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states, “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” But the NIDCD fails to give a time limit.

As I wrote in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, 70 decibels time weighted average for 24 hours is the only evidence based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. My blog post for the American Journal of Public Health further explained why the real safe noise exposure level is likely to be lower.

The 85 decibel standard comes from the occupational noise exposure level, which is 85 A-weighted decibels. It isn’t a safe noise exposure standard without a time limit, and it doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

If you are unsure whether the noise level is safe, either get a sound meter app for your smart phone or follow this simple rule: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud! If you can’t converse easily over a sound, it’s above 75 A-weighted decibels, which is the Auditory Injury Threshold, and hearing damage is occurring.

Children rely on us to protect them from many things, and noise exposure is one them.  So this holiday season, do a little research before you buy to make sure you are getting the children in your life fun and safe toys.

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.

Why is Cosmopolitan writing about hearing loss?

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When The Quiet Coalition came together last year, there were few articles in the popular media about noise issues, and those that did appear often contained significant factual errors. But over the last few months, the number of articles has increased and errors within them have decreased. One example is a recent article in Cosmopolitan, an international women’s magazine covering fashion, beauty, and sex, which offers very sound advice about hearing protection, including the admonishment to abandon the use of earbuds.

Health education is one of the cornerstones of public health practice. It is believed that if people know what are healthy practices, they will do it. My observation is that this may be true for those at the higher end of the socioeconomic scale but doesn’t necessarily hold for the majority of people, who are either not interested, lack resources, or are too busy handling everyday life to worry about how what they do today might affect their health tomorrow. I think society has a responsibility to protect the health of all people whatever their socioeconomic status, and I believe that strict regulations are more effective in encouraging healthy behaviors than health education programs. If health education programs worked reliably, nobody would smoke, everyone would exercise, there would be no sexually transmitted diseases, and etc.

As with laws banning indoor smoking (and in some places, outdoor smoking at beaches and parks), comprehensive local, state, and federal indoor and outdoor quiet laws will be more effective than health education programs and articles in the popular media to protect the nation’s auditory health. But health education efforts about the danger of noise are a start, at least for those who read the information.

In the United States, the best example of disparate health habits correlated with educational status may be smoking, where only about 3.7% of adults with graduate degrees (and presumably higher income levels) smoke, compared to 25.6% of those without a high school diploma. This is a striking seven-fold variation. Another example is obesity, which is inversely correlated with educational status and annual income, but the relationship isn’t as strong. Nearly 33% of adults who did not graduate high school are obese, compared with 21.5% of those with a college or technical degree, and more than 33% of adults earning less than $15,000 are obese, compared with 24.6% of those earning at least $50,000 annually.

It’s clear that higher education and income levels are keys to better health. And this now likely applies to hearing health, including Cosmopolitan readers.

And that’s important. I’m an internist who believes in practicing what I preach. I don’t smoke. My body mass index (BMI) is 24.5. I walk an hour or more a day, eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, avoid red meat, eat lots of fish, wear a hat and long sleeves if I’m in the sun, and always use a seat belt. But I had no idea that a one-time exposure to loud noise could give me tinnitus and hyperacusis for the rest of my life. So if just one young woman who reads the Cosmopolitan article protects her hearing–and tells her friends and family to do so too–the staff at Cosmopolitan will have done a great public service.

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.

Attention parents-to-be: your baby can hear in utero!

Photo credit: lunar caustic licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Zayan Guedim, Edgy Labs, writes about a University of Kansas study that has determined that “[n]ot only can babies hear in utero…they [actually] start developing language sensitivity while in the womb.” Guedim notes that hearing is “the acutest sense of the fetus,” which can start to perceive sounds even before “the auditory cortex is fully developed.” By 16 weeks, “the fetal sense of hearing begins.” At first the fetus can perceive sounds but it cannot interpret them, but that changes from week 23, when “the fetus will hear ‘sounds’ to which it reacts by movement, accelerated heart rate or turning its head.”  What kind of sounds get the fetus’ attention? “High-pitched sounds, like a barking dog or a horn, will get the baby’s attention more than, say, soft background music.”

So, how sophisticated is a fetus’s sense of hearing? Guedim writes that “[i]t’s already established that newborns get familiarized with their parents’ native language and react differently to foreign languages.” But now, research by the University of Kansas Department of Linguistics suggests that “the fetus can distinguish between different languages” and will show “an inclination to the language they would acquire after birth–the one they’re used to hear during gestation.”

The study also confirms that “the baby reacts to the mother’s voice more than anything else, because “[u]nlike other voices and sounds that travel through the air, the mother’s voice reverberates through her bones and internal tissues that act as amplifiers.”

So mothers-to-be, speak clearly because someone is most assuredly listening in.

 

 

Can plants hear?

Yes they can. Marta Zaraska, Scientific American, reports on a new study indicates that “some flora may be capable of sensing sounds, such as the gurgle of water…or the buzzing of insects.” If plants can hear, are they susceptible to noise pollution? Sadly, the answer could be yes.  Zaraska writes that the research “raises questions about whether acoustic pollution affects plants as well as animals.” Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia who worked on the research project said that “[n]oise could block information channels between plants, for example, when they need to warn each other of insects.” So throw out the gas-powered leaf blower and buy yourself a rake. Your flora will thank you.

Another review site tackles “kid-friendly” earbuds and headphones

And TJ Donegan, Reviewed.com, concludes that you should never let your kids use your earbuds. Why? His review finds that headphones and earbuds could be dangerous for your kids’ ears. Donegan starts his article by stating that as a father to a young daughter:

I feel like I need to constantly worry about her safety. Worse, every other day there’s some jerk online telling me to be terrified of something new. Well, today I’m that jerk, but this is important: your headphones may be dangerous.

Donegan notes that most people probably recognize that loud concerts can damage hearing, but adds that “researchers and groups like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control (sic) have established that routine exposure to moderately loud sounds can permanently damage your hearing, with up to 1.1 billion people at risk.” The risk is of particular concern for children, as they “frequently listen to music at max volume.” 

This point was driven home for Donegan who says that “when testing for our roundup of the best headphones for kids…we found that even something as simple as an Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the included earbuds can dramatically exceed the recommended levels at full volume, posing a risk after just a few minutes.”  In the course of testing volume-limiting, “kid safe” headphones, Donegan and his associates found that “many exceeded their own advertised maximum limits” or the safeguards were easy for children to remove. 

Donegan then explores the issue of “how loud is too loud,” stating that “though health experts have been studying this for decades, there isn’t a clear point at which damage is guaranteed to occur.”  He cites the “consensus” standard that holds that “you are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss if you’re exposed to an average volume of 85 decibels for 8 hours in a day,” but adds that “[i]t’s important to note that we’re not entirely sure where the safe zone really ends, and because noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible, caution is definitely the way to go.”  There is more than a hint of skepticism about safe standards in this article, as there should be.  As noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink has written in his editorial in the American Journal of Public Health, the 85 dBA standard is “an occupational noise exposure standard [that] is not a safe standard for the public.”

After an exhaustive review of hundreds of headphones, including 20 pairs of volume-limiting headphones, Donegan distills the findings into guidelines he plans on using when his daughter starts using headphones, including using volume-limiting headphones that play at or below recommended sound levels and limiting headphone use to under one hour a day.

To see Donegan’s full list of guidelines and learn more about the methodology used to review volume-limiting headphones, click the link in the first paragraph.

Link via @earables.

We’ve asked this very question many times

Photo credit: Philip Robertson

Why are (some) sports so noisy? Kathi Mestayer, Hearing Health Magazine, asks that question in her thoughtful article about sports and noise. At Silencity we have expressed concern with the ongoing display of bravado between NFL teams over which team’s fans can produce the loudest crowd roar, and noted with despair that this inane and dangerous contest has been embraced by college sports.  But as Mestayer notes in her article, noise in sports is not limited to popular team sports.  As anyone looking to get fit at the local gym knows, we are often exposed to excruciatingly loud music as part of the gym “experience.”

Mestayer writes that “[v]olumes in fitness classes hae been measured at above 100 dBA,” which, according to a handy graphic accompanying the article, can cause hearing damage after 14 minutes of exposure (if not before).  So why is it so loud?  Because “[b]ackground music is used to set the pace (and vary it), keep people moving, and make the workout seem more energetic and fun.”  Except when it isn’t.  Mestayer interviews Bonnie Schnitta, an acoustics consultant, who tells her about an acoustical retrofit for a gym because of noise complaints. The problem was due to design decisions, because, said Schnitta, “[p]eople often aren’t thinking about noise during the design phase.”

So what can we do?  Mestayer gives us some options, including using earplugs and downloading the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s sound meter, but one thing is clear–until and unless the government mandates noise standards for the public in public spaces, you have to protect yourself.

Click the first link to read Mestayer’s article in full.  It’s well worth your time.

Can Subway Noise Damage Your Hearing?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Sadly, the short answer is yes. And the longer answer is that some subway stations are more dangerous to your hearing than others.  Anil Lalwani, MD, an otolaryngologist at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and his colleagues prepared a study that examined whether subway station design influenced noise levels. Dr. Lalwani and his team went to twenty stations in Manhattan and discovered “that the noisiest platforms shared one thing in common: curved tracks.”  Click the link above to view Dr. Lalwani’s video about this study, its conclusion, and to hear Dr. Lalwani’s recommendations about “what we can do to reduce the risk of long-term hearing damage from subway noise exposure.”