Tag Archive: study

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.

Human noise pollution wreaks havoc on U.S. wildlife

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rachel Buxton, a postdoctoral research fellow at Colorado State University, writes about the impact expanding transportation networks are having on remote places. Buxton notes that “noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places,” and cautions that “[h]uman-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people.” Buxton and her team conducted a study using “millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas,” focusing on “human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources.” The study found that “noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.”

What are the consequences of these findings? Buxton writes that “[h]uman-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities,” adding that “noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer.” In addition, although plants can’t hear, they too are affected by noise because “noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers.”

The news isn’t all bad, however, as Buxton was “encouraged to find that wilderness areas – places that are preserved in their natural state, without roads or other development – were the quietest protected areas, with near-natural sound levels.”  Unfortunately, the team also found that 12% of “wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy.”

But all is not lost, as thoughtful management of our protected areas can help to reduce the impact of human-caused noise. Buxton concludes her piece by identifying the strategies that can be implemented to do this, including “establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads.”

Study: Noise and air pollution adversely affect heart health

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

CTV News reports that a new European study has found that exposure to excessive traffic noise is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. What makes this study particularly interesting, is that “[a]lthough air pollution has already been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, asthma, and risk of death, and noise pollution linked to raised blood pressure, disturbed sleep, and an increase in stress hormones, until now little research has been carried out on the effects of noise pollution and air pollution — which are often found together — on health.”

For purposes of the study, “noise pollution” was defined as “noise louder than conversation level — around 60 decibels (dB).”  To determine the effect of noise pollution on health, “the researchers tested the participants’ blood for a range of biological markers that could indicate heart disease…and blood sugar levels, which are linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke at higher levels.” After taking into account lifestyle factors (age, sex, smoking habits, etc.), the researchers found “an increase of just 5dB in noise levels was linked to 0.3% higher blood sugar levels than those living in quieter neighborhoods.”

But the bad news about noise pollution doesn’t end there. The researchers “also believe noise could be increasing the risk of heart disease by causing long-term psychological stress due to lack of sleep and an increase in the production of stress hormones.”

The results should not be entirely surprising. Anna Hansell, one of the authors of the new study, was the lead author on a study linking noise to adverse health effects in BMJ in 2013, and a senior author on another study  linking road traffic noise and cardiovascular morbidity, in 2015.

Additional studies will follow, as the researchers intend to continue their efforts “to add to the limited body of research in this area.”

 

Korean study finds 2 in 10 students hard of hearing

Photo credit: Republic of Korea licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

and, sadly, that school checkups failed to identify adolescents with hearing loss.  Korea Biomedical Review reports that “[i]nadequate hearing tests done by schools have been unable to find many teens with hearing problems resulting from the portable audio system and frequent visits to Internet cafes.”  The results call into question “statistics at Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and school tests conducted in 2010.”

The implications are significant:

The [study] found that 12.7 percent of seventh-grade students and 10.4 percent of 10th-grade students fell into the World Health Organization’s category of hearing loss (cannot hear at 15 decibels). When the high frequency is included, 17.9 percent of the 7th graders and 16.5 percent of 10th graders belong to the category of possible noise-induced hearing loss.

By contrast, school tests conducted in 2010 only found 5.4% of students with hearing loss.

The researchers cautioned that “[h]earing impairment can affect a student’s academic performance and can continue to create barriers to communication in social life and the workplace,” adding that “[t]he social cost of neglecting this problem can reach up to 72.6 billion won ($63.6 million).”

Meanwhile, in the U.S., are hearing exams required in primary schools?  They should be, because regular hearing exams would identify children at risk of hearing loss and would make children aware of the importance of protecting their hearing.

Fido to human: More Bob Marley, mon.

Your dog thinks your favorite band sucks.

Study finds that dogs are happier listening to soft rock and reggae. Of course, like humans, the preferences weren’t universal, with some pooches preferring other music genres.  But researchers at the University of Glasgow and the Scottish SPCA found that “[r]eggae music and soft rock were found to provoke the most positive changes in [doggie] behaviour.”  This study followed an earlier “2015 study by the same institutions that found classical music had a calming effect on dogs.”  Now that researchers have determined the absolute favorite canine music genres, the Scottish SPCA is planning to “install sound systems in all its kennels to play Bob Marley and Jon Bon Jovi [Ed.: Really?] to their unsuspecting charges.”

Proving once and for all that your dog is cooler than you are.

LInk via @QuietMark.

An interesting read about how the brain

extracts meaning from noise. Have you suddenly been able to understand someone with a thick accent or identify the lyrics in a song and felt like “your brain appear[ed] to be re-tuning to recognize speech that was previously incomprehensible”?  The University of California at Berkeley reports that its “neuroscientists have now observed this re-tuning in action by recording directly from the surface of a person’s brain as the words of a previously unintelligible sentence suddenly pop out after the subject is told the meaning of the garbled speech.”  Click the link to read more about this fascinating study.