Tag Archive: regulation

Will personal music players be the next public health disaster for young people?

Photo credit: Elena Buzmakova(borisova) from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitio

This article in The New York Times details ten years of regulatory dithering while millions of young people became addicted to nicotine through vaping. The health dangers of vaping were clear to many, but political considerations, lawsuits, and perhaps an early lack of clear evidence of harm led to inaction. And now young people, and a few older ones, are being sickened with several dying.

I see a similar situation developing with the widespread use of personal music players by young people.

The Sony Walkman was marketed in 1979, the iPod in 2001, and the now ubiquitous iPhones in 2007 and Androids in 2008. A large number of Americans use personal music players, and surveys find that users listen for several hours a day.  This report citing Nielsen figures says that Americans listen to music 32 hours a week!  That’s 4.5 hours every day. The World Health Organization recommends listening to no more than one hour daily, to prevent hearing loss. Other studies show that some users typically listen to music at high volumes, loud enough to drown out ambient noise.

There has been some media coverage about prolonged exposure to personal music players, but most people don’t seem to be aware of the problem.

I have communicated with the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what I see as a future epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss when today’s young people reach mid-life, after 30-40 years of excessive noise exposure. The CDC has begun a research program into noise and the public and undertaken educational efforts about the dangers of noise on hearing, but as with vaping devices, it’s clear to me that regulatory action is needed and that’s not something CDC does. Education can help change health behaviors, but regulation is much more effective.

Will there be media reports in 2030 or 2040 about the lost opportunity to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.

Unfortunately, then it will be too late to prevent the epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss. The time for action is now.

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.

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.

Noise keeps you up at night?

The Audiophiliac has the cure.  And his short answer is this: get some disposable earplugs.   Not exactly earth shattering.  Although The Audiophiliac’s review of options may be useful, it is, after all, a short answer for a short-term remedy.  Perhaps the author should consider the longer-term remedy and contact his city councilperson demanding real noise regulation in New York City.  Just a thought.

Amazon addresses the glaring weakness of noise-canceling headphones:

How to balance the benefit of noise cancellation with the danger of not hearing potential warning signs?

And the answer can be found in a new patent that Amazon received this month for “noise-canceling headphones that will allow critical, hand-picked words to be heard by the headphone-wearer.”  While not perfect solution, it’s a start.  Of course, the alternative solution is for government to regulate noise so that noise cancellation headphones are unnecessary, but that is sadly unlikely in our current political environment.