Tag Archive: The New Yorker

On hearing loss and the hope for a cure

In “High-Tech Hope for the Hard of Hearing,” David Owen, The New Yorker, has written an article that gives us a good look at what scientists know about hearing loss and where they are finding possibilities for treatment and, possibly, a cure. He begins his article with a series of personal anecdotes about himself, his family, and friends and the hearing problems they’ve developed due to exposure to loud noise and other factors. Owen’s interest in this story is motivated, at least in part, by his tinnitus, which is marked by a constant high-pitched ringing in his ears.

Among the advances that Owen examines, he discusses the discovery of hidden hearing loss and introduces us to Charles Liberman, who, with his colleague Sharon Kujawa, “solved a mystery that had puzzled some audiologists for years: the fact that two people with identical results on a standard hearing test, called an audiogram, could have markedly different abilities to understand speech, especially against a background of noise.” He writes that “[s]cientists had known for a long time that most hearing impairment involves damage to the synapses and nerve fibres to which hair cells are attached, but they had assumed that the nerve damage followed hair-cell loss, and was a consequence of it.” What Liberman and Kujawa discovered is that “the connections between the sensory cells and the nerve fibres that go first.” And the reason this early damage isn’t picked up by a standard hearing test is because it measures “the ability to detect pure tones along a scale of frequencies [which] requires only functioning hair cells…and is unaffected by nerve damage until more than eighty per cent of the synapses are gone.”

“A disturbing implication of [Liberman and Kujawa’s] finding is that hearing can be damaged at decibel levels and exposure times that have traditionally been considered safe,” writes Owen, but he is reassured by the researchers that the discovery of hidden hearing loss is cause for optimism. Why? “[B]ecause reconnecting nerve synapses is almost certain to be easier than regenerating functioning hair cells inside human ears.” In fact, Owen tells us that Liberman and others “have successfully restored some damaged connections in lab animals, and [Liberman] believes that far greater advances are to come.”

While cause for optimism is welcome, Owen notes something early in his article that is particularly frustrating to those advocating for regulation of noise:

There are also increasingly effective methods of preventing damage in the first place, and of compensating for it once it’s occurred. The natural human tendency, though, is to do nothing and hope for the best, usually while pretending that nothing is wrong.

Click the link above to read this interesting and hopeful article in full.

 

 

A fascinating read about the weaponization of sound:

When Music Is Violence.  Alex Ross, writing for The New Yorker, reports on the use of extremely loud noise in psychological-operations and warfare.  The American public was introduced to this tactic in December, 1989, when the military employed it in Panama, blasting “non-stop music [to] aggravate [Manuel] Noriega into surrendering” after he was expelled from power and took refuge in the Papal Nunciatura in Panama City.  Although the “media delighted in the spectacle”, both “President George H. W. Bush and General Colin Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took a dim view of it.”  Despite a lack of enthusiasm for weaponized noise at the top of command, the use of loud music as a weapon has increased. “[D]uring the occupation of Iraq the C.I.A. added music to the torture regime known as “enhanced interrogation,” and the tactic has also been used in Guantánamo.

Ross looks at the intersection of music and violence, noting that when “music is applied to warlike ends, we tend to believe that it has been turned against its innocent nature.”  He states, “[s]ound is all the more potent because it is inescapable,” and notes how technological development has led to long-range acoustic devices that “send out shrill, pulsating tones of up to a hundred and forty-nine decibels—enough to cause permanent hearing damage.”  The discussion turns darker as Ross examines the “music sadism” pioneered by the Nazis, and draws the thread to Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Mosul, and Guantánamo, where “the loud-music tactic displays a chilling degree of casual sadism: the choice of songs seems designed to amuse the captors as much as to nauseate the captives.”  And there is more.

Do click the link above.  The article is thought provoking, disturbing, and absolutely worth reading.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  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 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.

Mapping New York City Noise Complaints

The Atlantic’s City Lab reviews a new map by CartoDB that maps how noise is perceived in New York City.  CartoDB “[p]rogrammers mapped publicly available 311 noise complaint data from 2015 by Census tract, and layered on a dashboard that allows users to study those complaints against more than a dozen different metrics.”  City Lab notes that, “[i]t’s certainly not the only map made from 311 data out there, but it offers a lot more opportunity to play with the data yourself than most others.”  Definitely worth checking out.

Mapping noise complaints must have been the idea du jour this month, because The New Yorker also addressed 311 noise complaints in Mapping New York’s Noisiest Neighborhoods.

The New Yorker article also mentions an exciting development in the noise pollution front:

Margaret Chin, a councilmember from lower Manhattan, introduced a bill that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to start sampling noise across the city. The bill notes that “noise pollution is widely prevalent in urban areas” and that “transportation systems are the main source”—though it adds that bulldozers, air compressors, loaders, dump trucks, jackhammers, pavement breakers, loudspeakers, plumbing, boilers, air-conditioners, fans, and vacuum cleaners also bear considerable blame.

This is excellent news.  Before noise pollution can be properly controlled, we need to see the data.  Who knows, maybe city council will finally implement and enforce a noise regime that will make lilving in the city just a little bit easier.