Tag Archive: The New York Times

The truth about children’s headphones

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this piece for The New York Times parenting column, Joyce Cohen tells the truth about children’s headphones. The 85 decibel standard is not a safe listening volume for children, especially not without a specified exposure time.

In her article, Cohen cited The Quiet Coalition’s Rick Neitzel, PhD, associate chair of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, who said that “[t]reating 85 decibels as a safe level makes no sense at all,” adding that “[t]he 85-decibel number has achieved mythical status not because it is safe but because it is one of the few ways that occupational noise is regulated.”

I would add that a noise exposure standard that doesn’t even protect factory workers or heavy equipment operators from hearing loss is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which have to last her a whole lifetime. And an unknown factor is individual susceptibility. It’s impossible to predict whose ears are tough and whose ears are tender.

“The same noise dose has no apparent impact on some and a life-altering impact on others,” Bryan Pollard, president of the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research, told Cohen.

Consequences include not just hearing loss, but tinnitus, hyperacusis, and a sense of aural fullness. In her piece, Cohen interviewed pediatric audiologist Brian Fligor Ph.D. who summed things up: “We have done an atrocious job of teaching people to value their hearing.”

I hope Ms. Cohen’s writing will help parents know how dangerous headphones are for their children.

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 quieter world is possible

Photo credit: Leon Macapagal from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

As a long-term researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health, as well as a strong advocate for a quieter and less noisy world, I was delighted to read two articles in this Sunday’s New York Times real estate section today, March 29th, that focused on the appeal of more quiet and less noise in our lives.

The page one article, entitled “A Window of Opportunity,” states that “[t]hanks to noise reduction technology, living near train tracks is not a problem.” It goes on to explain that developers are now building near rail tracks and people are more willing to live near these tracks because improvements in window technology such as double-pane windows can significantly lessen the intrusive noise from passing trains.

The second article, entitled “Built-In Quiet is Part of a Suburb’s Appeal,” focuses on how living near a cemetery brought considerable quiet to a community of home dwellers because so much space in this New Jersey town is taken up by the cemetery. As one resident said about the cemetery, “to me, it’s beautiful.”

Apparently, these two articles mean that people are more conscious of the hazards of noise and more desirous of living in quieter surroundings. Furthermore, the articles should be reassuring to the anti-noise messengers in that people have been listening to them regarding the dangers of noise and the positive effects of quiet.

As a New York City resident, most of my attention today is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the effects it has had on people around the world. Yet, I can’t stop from thinking about my noise work because it has taken up so much of my time these past forty years. I have also read articles that this pandemic has resulted in less air pollution and less noise in New York City and other cities as well.

So, I began to wonder if this quiet, to which more people are being exposed, may be comforting to them, especially when there is so much around them to fear. If so, is it not possible that after the pandemic passes and people are able to get on with their lives again, that they might remember the comfort and pleasure quiet brings into one’s life? Is it not possible, that we might see more people joining in to lessen the noise around us? I can dream, can’t I?

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

 

Dining without the din

Photo credit: Julia Kuzenkov from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

After The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote in favor of restaurant noise on January 22, at least in part a response to a blog post I had sent him a month earlier that he referred to in his fourth paragraph, I heard from a number of my noise contacts around the country.

Mr. Wells didn’t mention my name, but the language he quoted was so familiar to those who know my thoughts about restaurant noise that most of the emails asked, “Dan, was that you?”

Of course it was.

One of my noise contacts suggested writing a letter to the editor. I hadn’t done that because in these days of impeachment trials and global warming and coronavirus, why would a newspaper print a letter about restaurant noise?

But with his encouragement, I did.

My letter didn’t get printed, but this one from former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel did.

It turns out that Mr. Frankel was the one who suggested that food critics write about restaurant noise many years ago.

And Mr. Frankel said exactly what I wanted to say, only so much better!

The headline the Times provided for the letter, “Dining Without the Din,” is a phrase that I will use in the future.

In four words, it captures exactly what I, and most of those commenting on Mr. Wells’ column, want.

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.

Keep your brain healthy by protecting your hearing

Photo credit: Silver Blu3 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Jane Brody’s recent column in The New York Times discusses the importance of good hearing for brain health. The exact mechanism isn’t understood, but the evidence is clear: even slight hearing loss has significant effects on brain function.

Research is under way to learn if using hearing aids prevents or delays the onset of dementia in those with hearing loss. In the meantime, we recommend avoiding loud noise exposure to prevent hearing loss, because noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Remember: if a noise sounds too loud, it is too loud. Leave the noisy environment or protect your hearing now, or wear hearing aids later.

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.

Sleep may be good for your salary

Photo credit: Ivan Oboleninov from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This fascinating article in The Ne York Times reports on a new study by economists showing that those who sleep more have higher salaries. The study correlated incomes with the earlier sunset times in the eastern end of a time zone compared to the western end, e.g., Boston, Massachusetts vs. Ann Arbor, Michigan, where there’s about a 50 minute difference between sunset times.

I wonder if another factor might be at work. Those who earn more can afford to live in quieter neighborhoods. Those who earn less can’t afford to do that. In fact, a study done by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that noise pollution was worse in poor and minority communities.

Might the researchers have mixed up cause and effect? Probably not, because according to the report they looked at average incomes in the different areas in the same time zone.

But one does have to wonder.

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.

Controlling the roar of the crowd

Photo credit: Gloria Bell licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The New York Times describes efforts by the Philadelphia Eagles and other professional and college sports teams to accommodate those with sensory challenges, “who can be most acutely affected by the overwhelming environments.”

Noise levels in many arenas and stadiums are high enough to cause auditory damage. The world record stadium noise is 142.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA)*, which exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible occupational noise exposure level of 140 dBA.

We wish the sports teams and the arenas and stadiums in which they play would do more to protect the hearing of everyone attending the game.

And since they probably won’t do this–crowd noise is weaponized to favor the home team, especially in football where it interferes with the visiting team hearing the quarterback calling the play–the public health authorities should step in.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

Your outer ears are important to hearing, too

Photo credit: Travis Isaacs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Those of us concerned about noise and hearing focus on noise damaging the inner ear and associated nerve structures, but the outer ear has an important role to play in hearing. It collects sound waves and directs them to the external auditory canal, but it also does more.

This report in the Science section of the New York Times discusses how the shape of the external ear helps humans determine exactly where a sound came from.

We can protect our hearing either by covering the pinna–the part of the external ear that we see–with ear muff hearing protection, or inserting ear plugs into the other part of the external ear, the external auditory canal. What’s important is to choose a method to protect your hearing and stick with it.

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.

Headphones marketed as safe for children aren’t!

kid-wearing-headphones

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

A new analysis on “the best kids’ headphones” by The Wirecutter, a product recommendations website owned by The New York Times, as reported in the New York Times science section, found that headphones marketed as “safe” for children’s hearing were louder than advertised. The Times’ article did not adequately reflect the extensive and thoughtful analysis by The Wirecutter’s reviewers, Lauren Dragan and Brent Butterworth. Their review deserves to be read (and reread) in its entirety, as it is without doubt the most complete and scientifically sound review about any noise topic that I have seen in the popular media.

The Wirecutter review mentions that two problems with headphones marketed as “safe for children”: (1) that the headphones are louder than they claim to be, and (2) that manufacturers are using an industrial-strength occupational noise exposure level as a safe noise level for children. The review doesn’t emphasize the latter point enough.

I discuss the origin of the 85 decibel noise exposure standard in detail in an editorial in the January 2017 issue of The American Journal of Public Health. The 85 decibel volume level at issue was developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to protect workers’ hearing. It comes with strict time limits–an 8-hour day, 240 days a year, for a 40-year work career–and even then does not protect all workers from hearing loss. NIOSH discussed the difference between an occupational noise standard and a safe noise level for the public earlier this year in a blog post titled, “Understanding Noise Exposure Limits: Occupational vs. General Environmental Noise.” The NIOSH post makes it very clear that 85 decibels is not a safe noise level for the public, and it certainly is not safe for toddlers or children who may be listening to music or watching videos for more than 7 hours a day, every day. In addition, children, and especially teens, are exposed to other loud noise sources–action movies, sports event, etc.–so their total noise dose likely approaches dangerous levels.

Children’s ears may be more sensitive to noise than adult ears. First, there is no doubt that an 85 decibel headphone speaker is closer to a child’s eardrum because the external auditory canal is shorter in children than adults. (Noise follows the inverse square law, so the closer a noise source is to the ear the louder it is.) Second, it’s unlikely that children will limit their listening to just 240 days a year, on average they will live for almost 80 years, and in the course of their lifetimes they will undoubtedly be exposed to more noise, in gyms, parties, rock concerts, sports events, and the like. A child’s delicate ears have to last her a whole lifetime.

Studies of auditory acuity in so-called primitive populations show that significant hearing loss in old age is not inevitable. These studies are not available online, so I can’t provide links, but the classic studies were done in the 1960’s by Rosen and colleagues in the Mabaan population in the Sudan, and by Dickson and colleagues in the Kalahari Bushmen. Rosen found that the Mabaan could carry on a conversation at normal speech volumes while facing away from each other at a distance of 100 yards. Dickson wrote that the Bushmen could hear an airplane 70 miles away. As noted in The Wirecutter review, acute hearing was a matter of life or death for our primitive ancestors, either to find food or to avoid being a predator’s meal. The Rosen and Dickson studies suggest that hearing loss so commonly seen in the U.S. is likely not part of normal part of normal physiological aging, but rather is noise-induced hearing loss–i.e., the result of a lifetime’s exposure to excessive noise. If one starts listening to 85 decibel sound at age 3, hearing loss and hearing aids may be inevitable–and at an earlier age than in the past.

What can be done to protect children’s hearing from dangerous consumer products marketed to them? The federal agencies charged with protecting the public should do their jobs. The Federal Trade Commission should take enforcement action on the grounds of false advertising against vendors claiming that headphones with the 85 decibel volume limit are safe for children. They may be safer than headphones without a volume limit, but they are by no means safe, especially without recommendations for time limits on use. The Consumer Product Safety Commission should require warning labels on headphones, earbuds, and personal music players, stating “LOUD MUSIC CAUSES DEAFNESS!” The pediatric community should do more to educate parents about the dangers of noise for children. And parents must step up and demand truly safe products for their children or deny their children access to products that will destroy their hearing.

Dr. 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 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.