Tag Archive: hearing

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.”

What can you do to protect your children’s hearing?

Doctors say kids are at higher risk for hearing loss. Dr. Rachel Wood, an audiologist with the LSU Health and Sciences Center, studies and treats hearing loss patients, and increasingly she is seeing younger patients. Dr. Wood says that there are a “growing number of factors that cause hearing loss.” One particular concern is that “[c]hildren especially can plug into their phone and crank up the volume, turn up the sound effects on video games, or even watch rock concerts on their computers.”

Dr. Wood finds headphones to be “especially troubling,” stating:

There are tiny sensors in your inner ear that are very sensitive. Loud sounds damage those sensors, and if they’re destroyed, they will never grow back, which leads to hearing loss. The amount of damage is based on the volume of the sound and how close the sound is to your ear. Since headphones put the sound right next to those sensors, it magnifies the damage.

So what can you do to protect your child’s hearing?  Dr. Wood suggests that parents set volume limits on electronic devices such as phones.  She also advises parents to impose time limits for using headphones and have their children take a break every 30 to 60 minutes.  Finally, if your children are going to events with loud noises, such as concerts or fireworks displays, hand them a pair of ear plugs.  Purchased in bulk, ear plugs are a cheap and easy way to protect your children’s hearing.

 

 

 

It’s World Hearing Day!

By Daniel Fink, MD

Today, March 3, is World Hearing Day. This day is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness and promote ear and hearing care around the world. The theme of this year’s World Hearing Day is “Action for Hearing Loss: Make a Sound Investment,” which aims to draw attention to the economic impact of hearing loss and cost effectiveness of interventions to address it.

I wish the WHO and the U.S. federal government paid a little more attention to prevention of hearing loss rather than dealing with the consequences after the damage has been done. The “public health mantra” is that prevention is better and cheaper than treatment, which in turn is better and cheaper than rehabilitation. I know that many people think hearing loss is part of normal aging, but several lines of evidence suggest that most hearing loss is caused by noise exposure. Presumably most people think they can just get a hearing aid when their hearing goes, unaware that hearing aids don’t work as well for hearing loss as eyeglasses work for presbyopia. And noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable–just avoid loud noise. If you can’t avoid noise, use earplugs.

Helen Keller said decades ago, “Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people.”  The New York Times recently had a column about blindness, the most dreaded physical disability.  If people were losing vision instead of losing hearing from noise exposure, people might be more concerned about our too noisy world.

This sounds like clickbait but it isn’t:

Try this one trick to hear people better at parties. And the trick is?  “People in noisy situations should face slightly away from the person they’re listening to and turn one ear towards the speech.”  A new study, funded by UK charity Action on Hearing Loss, finds this technique is a particularly helpful listening tactic for cochlear implant users, and is “compatible with lip-reading, which was unaffected by a modest, 30-degree head orientation.”

Click the link above to learn more about why this technique works and to watch the video at the bottom of the webpage on binaural audio (or how to record sound so it sounds like it does in your head).

 

Red wine and dark chocolate can protect against hearing loss?

Sign me up! Ok, a red wine and dark chocolate diet may sound pretty fabulous, but obviously one cannot embrace it as a way of life no matter how concerned you are about your hearing. And, in any event, Debbie Clason’s post at Healthy Hearing adds that while “a glass or two of red wine can guard against the type of inflammation that causes [noise-induced hearing loss], excessive drinking deposits toxic levels of alcohol in your bloodstream which can permanently damage your hearing.” As for the protective benefits of dark chocolate, it’s not the chocolate in dark chocolate that protects hearing.  Rather, chocolate “contains zinc, which is known for boosting the immune system and guarding against infections that plague the ear.”

So, as with most other things, enjoy some red wine and dark chocolate in moderation.  And who knows?  It may actually help to protect your hearing.

Click the first link above to learn more about inflammation, hearing loss, and how “[h]ealthy eating and exercise habits, combined with reducing exposure to excessive environmental and occupational noise, can help preserve hearing acuity into old age.”