Tag Archive: study

Michigan scientists studying the natural soundscape

Photo credit: Kaique Rocha from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the Michigan Science Center describes how scientists and artists are studying the natural soundscapes there.

Nature is quiet without human noise.  Natural sounds includes birds chirping, squirrels chattering, waves splashing on the shore, and wind in the trees.

The soundscape can also be studied as an indicator of environmental health, because natural quiet is good for animals, good for people, and good for the environment.

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.

Animal study may have implications on human hearing issues

Photo credit: Батяшев Александр licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitionhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

I’ve only read the press release and the abstract for this paper in JNeurosci but the findings are interesting. In chinchillas–a common animal model for hearing research–scientists at the University of Rochester and Purdue University found that mild noise-induced hearing loss also caused changes in nerve processing of auditory signals.

This may have implications for humans in terms of the very common “speech in noise” problem, in which people with normal audiograms complain that they can’t understand a conversation if the ambient noise level is moderate to high.

But to me, the most important implication of this study is that it emphasizes how important it is to protect our ears.

The only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels a day and even that low level of noise exposure may be too high.

According to the World Health Organization, only one hour at 85 A-weighted decibels is enough to cause hearing loss.

The CDC states that noise-Induced hearing loss is entirely preventable.  Avoid exposure to loud noise, or wear hearing protection if one can’t.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

Columbia project on hearing loss focuses on the brain

Photo Credit: This U.S. Army graphic is in the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The hearing loss space is attracting investment again after nearly four decades of being starved for funding. New York City’s Columbia University is working on a project that shows us what investors are looking into: the hidden parts of hearing that involve brain circuitry.

The Columbia project, unlike some of the others I’ve discussed before, won’t deliver anything practical for a very long time, but it’s still pretty interesting. Until recently hearing researchers focused on the ear and assumed that was the important part. But it turns out that the wiring between the ear and brain, specifically the regions of the brain involved in hearing, is where the action is now. In part, that’s because there’s been such a surge of federal and private money pouring into brain research over the past decade.

The Columbia research team is looking at how they might train hearing aids to distinguish the voices of specific people—the people you want to hear and nobody else. Right now, that would involve implanting electrodes into your brain–that’s what happens if you get a cochlear implant–but they’re hoping to be able to do this eventually with external devices.

What the researchers are addressing is what’s known as the Lombard Effect, discovered a century ago by the French physician Etienne Lombard, and also known as the “cocktail party effect.” It’s one of the first signs of hearing loss and consists of an inability to understand “speech-in-noise.” Example: you’re in a noisy space like a club or a party, and you’re trying to understand what your companion is saying but you’re unable to do so because of the background noise. Sound familiar? If so, you–like nearly 50 million Americans–have hearing loss.

No, there’s nothing you can do about it. Not yet. So we recommend you follow this Columbia project to see what happens next.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Another drug trial to prevent noise-induced hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This press release from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says that the medical school is receiving a $10 million grant from the Army to test whether an epilepsy drug can prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

The study population includes patients undergoing surgical procedures requiring use of noisy drills and police officers.

While I’m glad that people who can’t avoid loud noise may have an option that will offer them some level of protection, for most of us it’s a whole lot easier to prevent noise-induced hearing loss by just avoiding exposure to loud noise.

Remember, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

Hearing loss associated with depression

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’m not sure this new report on the association between hearing loss and depression in older Hispanic people in JAMA Otolaryngology adds much to our knowledge of how hearing loss affects people. It has been known for some years that hearing loss is associated with depression in older people. The report extends the research to Hispanic people in several large cities, but as best as I can tell, that’s the only new information. The authors claim that this study’s importance is that it measured hearing loss rather than relying on reports of hearing difficulties, but some earlier studies did that, too.

In older people it’s hard to tell if the hearing loss was caused by noise or not, because over time changes indicating hearing loss from noise lose specificity as hearing loss becomes worse. But my analysis of the literature suggests that what is commonly called age-related hearing loss, as in the JAMA Otolaryngology article, is really noise-induced hearing loss, which is entirely preventable.

Now that the connection between hearing loss and depression is clear, doesn’t it make sense for government and the medical community to commit resources to educate the public about the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss? A host of health concerns will diminish or disappear if we focus on stopping noise-induced hearing loss.

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.

You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from technology writer Markham Heid discusses noise pollution. Heid writes about the work of noted researcher Thomas Münzel, MD, who’s 2018 study shows “the ties between loud noise and heart failure, heart attack, and stroke — as well as noise’s negative impact on a person’s sleep and cognitive performance.”

Münzel, Heid writes, asserts that noise that is “about 70 decibels — roughly the noise generated by a passing car — could be considered ‘unhealthy noise,’ because it can disturb sleep, and poor sleep is a risk factor for health issues ranging from heart disease to obesity to diabetes.” Münzel explains that the problem with noise when you are sleeping is that “[y]ou can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.”

And that’s why noise pollution makes us sick, causing hearing loss and the non-auditory health effects on the heart and damaging our mental health.

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.

Protect your heart, protect your hearing?

Photo credit: speedoglyn1 licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in JAMA Otolaryngology reports a correlation between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss in patients over age 80. The correlation was more pronounced in men than in women.

A correlation between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss has been reported for some years. The blood supply to the inner ear can be affected by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), caused by genetics, smoking, diabetes, dietary fat intake, and the passage of time. A compromised blood supply may damage the cochlea, and may make it less able to recover from noise damage.

The study is an exploratory one, with a small number of subjects, and correlation doesn’t mean causation. But if people lead a heart-healthy lifestyle, they may also be protecting their hearing.

Hearing loss is very common in older Americans, with half of those over 65 having hearing loss.

I still think the major cause of hearing loss is excessive noise exposure over a lifetime, but taking care of your heart can’t hurt.

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.

A fascinating study about restaurant noise

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is a problem for patrons trying to converse with their dining companions, and a common complaint in the Zagat survey.

When ambient noise is loud, people raise their voices to increase the speech to noise or signal to noise ratio to help others hear what they are saying. This creates a positive feedback loop, where everyone increases how loud they are speaking, until it’s so loud that no one can understand anything being said. The phenomenon, called the Lombard effect or cocktail party effect, has been known for a long time.

This study in the world’s most prestigious acoustical journal, the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, adds to our knowledge of how restaurant noise affects understanding of speech. The researchers studied speech in a sound booth at different ambient noise levels. The sound level of speech increased as ambient noise increased. Subjects reported disturbance of speech beginning at 52.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA), with vocal effort beginning to increase at 57.3 dBA. The researchers noted that as background noise increased, it triggered a decrease in the willingness to spend time and money in a restaurant. The researchers concluded that restaurants should have ambient noise levels of 50-55 dBA. That’s a much lower sound level than that in most restaurants.

The study is quite technical, and I have two quibbles with it.

First, it was done in a sound booth. That is ideal for research, but I would be interested to see the study replicated in a real or simulated restaurant environment.

Second, the average age of the subjects was 21, with a range from 18-28. I would like to see the study repeated, even with the same methods, in a population age 58-68, with an average age of 61, or even 68-78, with an average age of 71.

I suspect the findings would be similar, but the decibel numbers would be significantly lower.

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.

A healthy diet might protect against hearing loss, but noise is still the problem

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This study shows that a healthy diet can help women protect their hearing.

It has long been known that high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking were associated with hearing loss, probably because they cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and anything that affects blood flow to the inner ear (cochlea) might cause damage, or make the cochlea less able to recover from noise damage. A healthy diet can reduce or prevent atherosclerosis. So that is probably the explanation for this finding, done using nurses as subjects.

So would I suggest that women adopt a healthy diet to protect their hearing? Of course! But whether a woman (or a man) eats a healthy diet or not, avoiding noise exposure will definitely prevent hearing loss.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it is too loud!

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.

Is there universality in music?

Photo credit: shankar s. licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Antonella Radicchi, PhD, Steering Committee Member, The Quiet Coalition

Despite its inherently subjective nature, music appears to be universal across different cultures around the globe, according to the findings of a hot-off-the-press Harvard study published January in Current Biology.

This interdisciplinary study, run by an international team of scientists from Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, produced significant findings that suggest people can infer song function on the basis of song form alone, regardless of the song’s cultural origin.

The scientists were committed to filling the gap of knowledge regarding the lack of empirical evidence for whether or not different types of music share common features across cultures. To address this issue they designed a study based on two experiments.

In the first experiment, 750 online participants in 60 countries were asked to listen to 14-second long excerpts of songs collected from nearly 90 small societies around the globe. The songs were drawn from the collection of the Natural History of Song–a Harvard-based project investigating the world’s vocal music–and focused on three types: dance, healing, and lullaby. Participants were then asked to rate the association between the vocal songs and their potential functions, on a scale composed of six prevalent functions, such as dancing, soothing a baby, healing illness, expressing love, mourning a death, and telling a story.

Data collected through first experiment showed that people were able to infer the song function only on the basis of the song form, despite the random sampling of the songs, the short duration of the excerpts, and the unfamiliarity of the online participants with the cultures were the songs originated. This finding contradicted academic expert projections–when ethnomusicologists were asked by the scientists whether people could deduct the song function from the song from or not, they were skeptical and expressed doubt. But they were wrong.

The scientists continued with a second experiment that evaluated potential commonalities in music making across cultures by asking the online participants to rate contextual and musical features, such as the number and gender of the singers, the melodic complexity of the songs, etc. Again, the results were very consistent, and by comparing the results form both the experiments scientists were able to argue that common musical features exist across cultural boundaries.

Despite the promising results, a significant weakness affects the study, as highlighted by the lead scientist: the participants were people who have had access to Internet and probably were familiar with vocal songs from different cultures. In this regard, it remains unclear whether the results reveal the structure of the human mind or they tell us how and what the contemporary listeners hear in world music.

This bias will be addressed in a follow-up study in which the survey will be translated in 24 languages so the scientists can extend the number of countries involved. Furthermore–and this sounds very exciting!–the scientists aim to bring the study into the field and play in real time songs excerpts for members of small societies based in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.

Stay tuned for further amazing results!

Dr. Radicchi’s main area of expertise encompasses innovative urban design and planning, soundscape research, citizen science, and mobile technology. Her ultimate goal is to design environmentally just and human scale cities. Dr. Radicchi is a registered architect, and she holds a Ph.D. in Urban Design and Territorial Planning, with doctoral studies conducted at MIT and at the University of Firenze. She is currently an Ipodi-Marie Curie Fellow at TU Berlin Institute of City & Regional Planning, where she has created and run two innovative soundscape projects, including the Hush City app, a citizen science tool for empowering people to identify, map, and evaluate quiet areas worldwide.  Dr. Radicchi is a steering committee member of The Quiet Coalition.