This report from KCBD in Texas discusses the dangers of fireworks noise for auditory health. The audiologist interviewed, Leigh Ann Reel, Ph.D., is especially concerned about impulsive noise, as from an explosion. One exposure at close range can cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis.
Fire departments and public health authorities generally recommend leaving fireworks displays to the professionals, but in many states and localities personal use of fireworks is legal and enforcement of fireworks bans is spotty.
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.
Every year around the 4th of July we see a couple of articles on how to help your pet deal with the trauma they suffer during fireworks season. This year the advice is courtesy of the Carroll Count Times, where correspondent Iris Katz dispenses the usual nuggets of useful information:
Owners are advised to slowly inhale and exhale when fireworks and thunder start, play calming music, keep high value treats or toys on within reach to give the dog when thunder starts or a firework goes off and to keep tossing treats and toys. Food puzzle toys, like goody-stuffed Kongs or food dispensing toys, may be pleasant distractions for sound-sensitive dogs.
Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, as the noise causes them to hide or howl with fear and anxiety. Trish Hernandez, The Taos News, tells you how you can protect your dog from this trauma. Her article offers a number of helpful solutions to help your pooch make it through the upcoming fireworks season (which can run all summer long in places like New York City).
First and foremost, Hernandez strongly suggests that you not leave your dog home alone, noting that “[d]ogs with phobic reactions to fireworks can easily panic and injure themselves in the process….[and] [m]any panicked dogs find ways to escape from their yards and can be further injured or killed while running loose.” That said, your home is the best place for your dog, and staying with him or her will help to keep them distracted (and a few extra treats won’t hurt). Hernandez also gives advice for people with multiple dogs, noting that “if one dog already exhibits a fearful or phobic response to the sound of fireworks, [you should] separate the dogs so that non-fearful dog does not “catch” the fear.”
It’s not just pets who suffer from firework noise, humans can too. An editorial in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise notes that “[t]he booms and bangs of fireworks can be particularly harsh for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” adding that “[t]he sound of gunshot-like noises can trigger flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and even suicide.”
While taking steps to ease the trauma for humans and dogs is the obvious course, maybe we need to think about logical long-term solutions, like avoiding the trauma in the first place. For example, we could advocate for a ban on loud fireworks like the thoughtful residents of Collecchio, a town in the province of Parma, Italy. The local government there “introduced new legislation forcing citizens to use silent fireworks as a way of respecting the animals” by reducing the stress caused by noise from conventional fireworks.
That is, instead of each of us trying to protect humans and animals from the trauma of loud fireworks, we could protect everyone by requiring the use quiet fireworks. Quiet fireworks have existed for decades, and they are just as vivid and colorful as their conventional cousins. But unlike conventional fireworks, they don’t traumatize animals or people or cause hearing damage.
Why would someone want quiet fireworks, you may ask? Pet owners know that cats and particularly dogs can be adversely affected by fireworks, but humans are at risk as well:
For people, loud fireworks can lead to hearing loss. The World Health Organization lists 120 decibels as the pain threshold for sound, including sharp sounds such as thunderclaps. Fireworks are louder than that.
Dr. Williams also sees higher traffic to his clinic after Independence Day. “We usually see a handful of people every year,” he said. “In these cases, hearing loss is more likely to be permanent.”
And Dr. Williams added that children are more vulnerable to hearing loss from fireworks because they have more sensitive hearing. So if you are going to a fireworks display this weekend, enjoy it safely and bring ear plugs for the whole family.