Tag Archive: PhD

Ringing ears is a sign of permanent damage to hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Cleveland Clinic makes the point that ringing in the ears–the technical term is tinnitus–after loud noise exposure indicates that permanent damage has occurred to the ears.

That’s good to know. I didn’t know that before a one-time exposure to loud noise ten years ago caused tinnitus for the rest of my life.

But I disagree strongly with two things Sharon A. Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology at the Cleveland Clinic, says in the online article.

One is her statement, “[a]s you get older, it’s natural to experience some hearing loss.”

No, it’s not natural to experience hearing loss with age. Hearing loss with age is very common, but it is not part of normal healthy aging, representing largely noise-induced hearing loss. I spoke about this last year at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zurich.

Dr. Sandridge’s second erroneous statement, with much more serious implications, is “[a] majority of people are safe listening to 85 dB for eight hours.”

This is just wrong! The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) doesn’t think so and neither do I.

Eighty-five decibels–actually 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) which usually measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted sound measurements–is the occupational noise exposure standard from NIOSH that even with strict time limits doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

The mathematics of the logarithmic decibel scale mean that after 2 hours of 85 dBA noise exposure, it is impossible to attain the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss, 70 decibels time-weighted average for 24 hours.

Most Americans are exposed to too much noise. Because of that, about 25% of American adults have noise-induced hearing loss, including many without any occupational exposure.

We’re running a great natural experiment–does noise exposure cause hearing loss?–and the answer is obviously “yes”.

And statements like those of “experts” like Dr. Sandridge, minimizing the health risks of noise exposure, are unfortunately part of the problem.

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.

New Umbrella Organization Takes Aim at Noise

On October 1, 2016, members of nine scientific, medical, and legal organizations launched a national umbrella anti-noise group, The Quiet Coalition (TQC), hosted by the nonprofit organization Quiet Communities, to advocate for a quieter world. TQC brings together a diverse group of organizations and individuals, each with a unique focus or interest, in the fight against noise. It brings medical, scientific, legal, and other specialized knowledge to the public policy process to advocate for all Americans to make our world quieter, more sustainable, and livable. On December 7th, TQC’s website went live.

TQC recognizes that noise is like secondhand smoke, in that it is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Both environmental noise and secondhand smoke involuntarily expose large segments of the public to harmful conditions, increasing their risk of disease.  And decades of research show conclusively that excessive environmental noise adversely affects health, learning, productivity, and the environment.

Why have decision makers been so slow to regulate noise? According to a newly published editorial in the American Journal of Public Health by Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of the TQC, the answer lies in public policy.  “Although noise was known to be a health hazard, it was treated as an environmental pollutant…with federal noise control activities assigned to the EPA.” These noise control activities were never adequately funded or supported, and federal and local health agencies were left with no meaningful responsibility. As a result, the issue has remained under the radar. TQC intends to change this now.

“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible: noise causes hearing loss and other health problems. We have a responsibility to speak up just as experts did when the dangers of smoking became known,” says Fink. Fink adds that “through recent discoveries, the mechanisms by which noise damages auditory cells, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system are becoming clear.”  TQC Program Director Jamie Banks, PhD, notes that “[p]ublic health policy to protect the nation’s health from environmental noise is long overdue,” and declares that, “[TQC] will provide decision makers with the scientific evidence needed to make informed policy decisions.”

To learn more about TQC and it’s mission to protect the public from noise, visit the TQC website.