Tag Archive: hyperacusis

More of this, please:

UK Supermarket to Offer Quiet Hour for Customers Who Hate Noisy Supermarkets.

The UK Asda chain is trying out a quiet hour at one store in Manchester.  During this hour, escalators will be stopped and display TVs and music will be turned off.  According to store manager Simon Lea, “the sixty minutes of silence was aimed at autistic shoppers who struggle with loud noises – but the idea has also been welcomed by thousands of locals fed up with the constant racket in supermarkets.”

We hope this is a huge success and that Asda’s example encourages other businesses to follow suit.

Link via QuietEdinburgh.

Yet another reason to ban electric hand dryers:

Dyson Airblades ‘spread germs 1,300 times more than paper towels’.  That said, the study only looked at Dyson Airblades and not other electric hand dryers, like the Xcelerator, which may spread viruses more effectively while assaulting your hearing.  Use a paper towel.

Thanks to Hyperacusis Research Limited for the link.  Hyperacusis Research Limited is a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatment.

The Philly Voice asks:

How do earbuds damage your hearing?

Philly Voice reporter Brandon Baker posed this question Linda Ronis-Kass, an audiologist at Penn Medicine Washington Square, “for an explanation of how listening to music at a high volume through earbuds can cause hearing loss — and potentially more.”  It’s an interesting read, particularly for those of you who like to pop in your earbuds and crank the volume up (don’t!!).

Thanks to Hearing Health Foundation for the link.

Have kids? Protect them from a preventable health threat:

The Starkey Hearing Foundation has launched Listen Carefully, a campaign to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss.  The campaign was started to combat a growing public health threat.  Namely, that “one in six American teens has noise-induced hearing loss from loud sounds.”  The Foundation wants to alert the public to this health threat and prevent a hearing loss epidemic.

Go to the Listen Carefully website to learn the facts about noise-induced hearing loss and find out how you can get involved to stop it.

Ear buds are killing your ears

The Chicago Tribune published a very informative article on How earbuds can wreck your hearing (especially for young people).  The article notes that:

A 2015 World Health Organization report found that nearly 50 percent of teens and young adults ages 12-35 are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from their personal music players. A 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association analysis found a significant increase in young people with hearing loss from three decades ago.

It’s well worth a read, particularly for the advice provided on how to know when sound is too loud and what you can do to limit harmful exposure.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.

Everyday noise: Hand dryers

In For drying out loud: Noisy hand dryers cause issues for some, the Dallas Morning News addresses one of our personal nemeses, hand dryers in public restrooms.  While the noise generated by a hand dryer may be merely annoying for most, they are a source of distress for people who suffer from tinnitus, hyperacusis, and sensory disorders such as autism.  The article discusses an Oregon State senator’s proposed legislation to limit public hand dryers to 84 decibels, “because louder models are ‘extraordinarily obnoxious and disruptive’ to people with sensory disorders, including [the legislator’s] autistic son, who cries and covers his ears when he’s near loud hand dryers.”

The problem is that the newer, more robust hand dryers are also louder:

[S]ome hearing experts have already made up their minds on high-decibel models like the Excel Xlerator and the Dyson Airblade.

“They’re a real cause for concern,” said Dr. Deanna Meinke, an audiologist and a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. “It’s just one more unnecessary source that adds to our cumulative exposure to noise.”

And there’s the problem in a nutshell.  Hand dryers are sold as an ecologically sound alternative to paper towels, but one wonders if the real reason for their use the cost savings associated with no longer purchasing paper towels and the less frequent need to remove trash/clean restrooms.  Sadly, no one puts a price on the discomfort (if not damage) suffered by those affected by loud hand dryers, which, unsurprisingly, are often placed in small tiled spaces.  As Dr. Meinke noted, it’s just one more unnecessary source of noise.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.

How a professional cellist learned to live with a career-ending ear injury:

The Atlantic has posted a fascinating aritcle by Janet Horvath, the former principal cello for the Minneapolis Orchestra who suffered an acoustic-shock injury to her left ear during a concert that led to a severe case of hyperacusis.  In “A musician afraid of sound,” Horvath writes that the placement of a speaker two feet from her ear left her unable to tolerate noise, including music.  The article allows those unfamiliar with hyperacusis to understand the devastation it can cause, particularly when the injury happens to someone for whom music was both a career and passion.  Fortunately, after being fitted “with modified hearing aids that…lower[ed] the volume of sound without altering its clarity,” followed by months of desensitization therapy, Horvath was to pick up her cello two years after her injury and play, but in the end she accepts that she would never be an orchestral musician again.

It’s gratifying to see a piece about hyperacusis in a mainstream publication, particularly since so few people are aware that it exists.  One hopes that pieces like this one, coupled with recent newpaper articles addressing restaurant noise, help to raise awareness about the noise pollution’s impact on health.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the the goal of developing effective treatments.

Insidious indoor noise

Do you ever wonder why restaurants are so loud?  Don’t assume it’s due to poor design, because it may be deliberate.  Peggy Hernandez, writing for the Boston Globe, found that for some restaurant owners, striking the right noise level is key.  But while she found some restaurant owners who were addressing unnecessary noise by installing professional soundproofing, others, “aiming for a lively atmosphere,” actively encouraged the party atmosphere. “We wanted bustling energy, conviviality, and a party feel,” says Tony Maws, chef and owner of The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, in Somerville.”  Based on my experience, Maws is not alone,  But it seems odd that a restaurant owner would deliberately maintain a loud space when you consider that, “[t]he 2014 Zagat Boston Restaurants Survey found restaurant noise level to be the number-one irritatant about dining out.”  The Zagats survey added that “[o]ver 70 percent of those surveyed avoid restaurants that are too loud…[with] similar results in New York City.”  So why would restauranteurs turn up the volume, or ignore it, when noise level is a common complaint?

Cara Buckley, writing for the New York Times on Indoor noise in New York restaurants and retail stores, reported that “[s]ome customers like the loudness. Younger people can withstand loud music longer, while older ones may run from it, helping proprietors maintain a youthful clientele and a fresh image.”  Further, “[s]ome research has shown that people drink more when music is loud; one study found that people chewed faster when tempos were sped up.”  So to maintain a “fresh image” or make a few more dollars, some restaurant owners deliberately expose their customers and employees to damaging loud noise.  The damage is not limited to hyperacusis, tinnitus, or hearing loss, as the article notes, “repeated exposure to loud noise often damages hearing and has been linked to higher levels of stress, hypertension and heart disease.”

The article includes three paragraphs that highlight the problem facing those of us who want restaurants and other spaces to lower the volume.  Namely, there are customers who enjoy the din:

Recent changes in restaurant design have also increased sound levels. The trend of making restaurants look like brasseries and bars to resemble speakeasies has bred an abundance of hard surfaces that can reflect and amplify sound: ceramic tiles, concrete floors and tin ceilings. This despite the fact that one of the biggest customer complaints about restaurants, according to Zagat, is noise. Yet those who like noisy places said they were energizing and gave them a sense that they were where it’s at.

Maria Vasquez, 22, a design student who spends time at Lavo — home to the 96 decibel levels and migraine-afflicted waitress — said she found the cacophony there fun. Tiffany Trifilio, 26, a fashion analyst who frequents the Standard Hotel’s Biergarten, said the din made her feel part of the crowd. And Katherine Gold, 35, who often stays at home with her baby, reveled in Lavo’s noise one recent night. “I spend my days in my apartment and at Central Park,” she said. “I have enough quiet.”

Patrons of spin classes also said the din was part of the draw. The pounding music helped them forget they were exercising, they said, and made them feel they were reliving the club days of younger years.

Loud music is fun and invigorating for some.  Sadly, by the time the young women in the NY Times story begin to experience hearing loss, or go home one night with ringing in their ears that never goes away, it may be too late to do anything about it.

One way to stop this madness is to offer incentives to responsible business owners who monitor sound levels.  And there is no bigger incentive than knowing that attention to this one detail can drive more foot traffic through their doors.  To that end, keep an eye on this space.  In the next few months we will be posting reviews of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, parks, and other places around Manhattan where the focus will be on sound quality.  Food quality, service, and other factors are obviously important considerations when picking a restaurant, for example, but we will not be posting typical reviews.  Rather, at most each review will include a brief description about the quality of the food, drink, or goods offered, decor, and service of each reveiwed place, but the emphasis will be on a simple standard: can you have a conversation in the space without raising your voice.  Over time, we hope to have a map that offers many options for those seeking  reasonably quiet spaces in every neighborhood in Manhattan. 

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D., a noise pollution activist in the Los Angeles area, for the article links.  Dr. Fink serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association.

Why this site?

A couple of years ago I began to notice that I was quickly losing any ability to tolerate noise, particularly in restaurants.  I had read that as we age we lose the ability to filter out extraneous sound, but what I was experiencing didn’t appear to be an ordinary reaction to noise.  Many of my friends, like me, are middle-aged, and while noisy places might annoy them, they didn’t experience the irritability–or, occasionally, the pain–that I did.  If I commented about a place being noisy my friends might agree, but they rarely commented about the sound level unless I pointed out that the space was particularly loud.  For the last few years I felt edgy and uncomfortable in loud spaces and would actively look for restaurants that were relatively quiet or had quieter corners.  One Sunday last year I met up with friends for brunch at an exceptionally noisy restaurant.  I became so uncomfortable and irritable about the competing layers of noise that I knew I had to do something.  First, I had to find out what was wrong.

I ran a few internet searches and came up with two possible answers: (1) hyper sensitive hearing and (2) hyperacusis.  I knew that I had acute hearing from childhood–I routinely could hear things that others could not–so hyper sensitive hearing seemed like the logical answer.  That said, although I was always sensitive to sound I didn’t used to find it irritating or sometimes painful.  So I scheduled an appointment to see an otolaryngologist (ears, nose, and throat doctor or ENT) and have a hearing test.  On the day of my appointment I got my answer: hyperacusis.

Hyperacusis, essentially, is an oversensitivity to certain frequencies and ranges of environmental sound that most people find to be normal.  Severe hyperacusis is rare, but there is a “lesser version” that affects musicians.  I was an amateur musician in high school and in my early 20s, and the symptoms I presented suggested that I had the lesser form.  It turns out that the irritability I experienced in loud places, particularly restaurants, is typical.  In fact, after my doctor told me that I had hyperacusis he added, “no, you aren’t neurotic.”  I know why he said that.  I had written off occasional ear pain and general grumpiness when in loud spaces, assuming that it was due to sensitive hearing, my general disdain for gratuitous noise, and, frankly, age.  But I was wrong.  And when I joined my friends for that brunch at the exceptionally loud restaurant, I knew that there was something more going on and that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal.

One reason why I didn’t immediately suspect that I had a hearing issue was due to luck: unlike a majority of people diagnosed with hyperacusis, I don’t have tinnitus.  My case is relatively mild, which is a very good thing as there is limited treatment and, from what I’ve read, no cure.  Rather, the only thing I can do is protect my hearing by limiting my exposure to damaging noise.  My doctor advised me not to attend concerts where there are electric musical instruments, and he prescribed musicians’ ear plugs that reduce noise levels by 25 decibels.  Taking affirmative action is particularly important as I live and work in New York City.

And so this blog has been created to catalog places in New York City that can be enjoyed quietly and without discomfort.  My hope is that those of us who have hyperacusis or hyper sensitive hearing or who simply want to find a quiet place in the city to read, think, or have a conversation can share our finds and maybe raise some awareness about the daily assault on everyone’s ears.  To that end, keep an eye on the map on the right, as it will be updated over time with public spaces, restaurants, bars, and retail spaces that are pockets of quiet in the city that never sleeps…or whispers.