Tag Archive: tinnitus

“Baby Driver” highlights the problems of tinnitus

Photo credit: leadfoot licensed under CC BY 2.0

Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I am not a moviegoer although my wife would say I am a movie critic, but I can’t comment on the new movie “Baby Driver” because I haven’t seen it. What I can say, based on movie reviews and this online article, is that the lead character has tinnitus from head trauma in a motor vehicle crash, and he plays music constantly to mask it.

Although there are many causes of tinnitus, the most common cause is noise, with a strong correlation between noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Most people with tinnitus have at least some hearing loss, and half of people with hearing loss have tinnitus.

So, movie conventions aside, what’s the best way to avoid developing tinnitus? It’s simple–avoid loud noise and wear hearing protection if you can’t.

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.

 

Millions of people don’t protect their ears

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD

Noise is a medical and public health problem, and yet people ignore it at their own peril. Most of us are exposed to too much noise every day. That may explain why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 25% of adults age 20-69 had hearing loss, and that many people with hearing loss didn’t know they had it.

Which is why a recent article by Mark Fischetti in Scientific American,A Loud Warning: Millions of People Do Not Protect Their Ears,” is particularly disturbing. Fischetti reports that while “many people know that they should use earplugs or earmuffs when mowing the lawn or partying at the club,” they don’t protect their ears against noise at home or at work. If you click the link to the article, you’ll see a frightening infographic that very clearly shows that millions of Americans are at risk of losing their hearing or suffering other hearing damage because they fail to protect their ears.

Maybe if people knew that noise caused hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis–none of which can be cured–they might be motivated to protect their hearing and fight for quiet.

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.

Can teens get tinnitus?

The answer, sadly, is yes. Emily Barker, writing for Redbrick, tells us about how she developed tinnitus from a one-time exposure to loud sound at a night club when she was 19-years-old. Barker says that she “never had any trouble with nights out being too loud, never had any pain or discomfort from loud music.” But after spending the evening at the club, and after she and her friends went back to the hostel they were staying at, she noticed that her ears “were ringing like crazy,” and she remembered “laughing about it with my friends because they were having the same issue and we were unintentionally shouting at each other from across the room.”

The laughter stopped the next day when Barker found that her ears were still ringing even as her friends’ ears had recovered. A couple of months later, she got confirmation that her hearing had been permanently damaged and she had tinnitus. She also was diagnosed with hyperacusis, a sensitivity to sound, so that “[a]pplause, doors or cupboards slamming, and things being dropped on hard floors are all sounds that [she] now find[s] extremely painful.”

Barker writes about the frustration of having developed tinnitus while everyone else she knew at the event did not, particularly since there was no family history of tinnitus. All she was told was that “sensitivity to noise is thought to be partly hereditary,” so her doctor theorized that she was “just an ‘at risk’ person.”

Barker concludes her piece with a warning to other teenagers and young adults, by listing myths about tinnitus, including, most importantly, the belief that you can’t get it from one night of clubbing. As she points out:

This is still the hardest thing for me to accept; it’s difficult to understand how just a few hours that caused me no distress or pain at the time can have had such a permanent impact. But the hairs in your inner ear can be destroyed by mere seconds of noise if it’s loud enough, and they cannot regrow: ergo, no cure.

Click the link to read the whole thing, and forward it to a teenager you know.  Hey, they might actually read it.

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.

 

 

Despite complaints, restaurant noise continues unabated

by Daniel Fink, MD

Ever since I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis from a one-time exposure to loud restaurant noise, I have been looking for a quiet restaurant (see the Acknowledgements section at the end of my editorial in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, “What Is a Safe Noise Level for the Public?“).

It turns out I’m not the only one complaining about restaurant noise.

Restaurant noise is the number one complaint of diners in New York, San Francisco, Portland OR, and Boston.  In fact, the Boston Globe just recently wrote about diners’ dislike of restaurant noise in a piece titled, “Listen up: Restaurants are too loud!

Restaurant owners may think that noise increases food and beverage sales, and decreases time spent at the table, and they are right.  But what they cannot measure is how many meals are lost because people like me don’t go to noisy restaurants with family or friends, choosing to dine at home, instead, where we can converse as we enjoy our meal. Perhaps restauranteurs should consider that we middle-aged folks are more likely to spend money in restaurants than other demographic groups.  After all, for many of us our kids are done with college, our mortgages are paid off, we’ve been saving for retirement, and we have the disposable income to enjoy a nice meal out more frequently than in our youth.  If there were quieter restaurants, we might dine out more often instead of avoiding them because we would rather not have a side of hearing loss with our steak frites.

I guess that as long as the restaurants are busy, they will stay noisy. But if enough of us speak up–in the restaurants and to our elected representatives, asking them to pass laws requiring some limits on indoor noise–restaurants will eventually get quieter.

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.

Age doesn’t matter,

you could have hidden hearing loss (and not know it). WMAR Baltimore reports on hidden hearing loss, a relatively recently discovered hearing breakthrough that explains how people who pass hearing tests have problems hearing in noisy environments.  WMAR interviewed audiologists about this breakthrough, who said that “why patients can’t decipher speech in noisy situations has been unexplained, but a new breakthrough is changing that.”  The researchers who made the hidden hearing loss breakthrough studied young adults who were regularly overexposed to loud sounds, and found that “hidden hearing loss is associated with a deep disorder in the auditory system.”

It’s never too late to protect the hearing you have.  Exposure to loud sounds damages hearing.  Period.

 

New Umbrella Organization Takes Aim at Noise

On October 1, 2016, members of nine scientific, medical, and legal organizations launched a national umbrella anti-noise group, The Quiet Coalition (TQC), hosted by the nonprofit organization Quiet Communities, to advocate for a quieter world. TQC brings together a diverse group of organizations and individuals, each with a unique focus or interest, in the fight against noise. It brings medical, scientific, legal, and other specialized knowledge to the public policy process to advocate for all Americans to make our world quieter, more sustainable, and livable. On December 7th, TQC’s website went live.

TQC recognizes that noise is like secondhand smoke, in that it is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Both environmental noise and secondhand smoke involuntarily expose large segments of the public to harmful conditions, increasing their risk of disease.  And decades of research show conclusively that excessive environmental noise adversely affects health, learning, productivity, and the environment.

Why have decision makers been so slow to regulate noise? According to a newly published editorial in the American Journal of Public Health by Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of the TQC, the answer lies in public policy.  “Although noise was known to be a health hazard, it was treated as an environmental pollutant…with federal noise control activities assigned to the EPA.” These noise control activities were never adequately funded or supported, and federal and local health agencies were left with no meaningful responsibility. As a result, the issue has remained under the radar. TQC intends to change this now.

“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible: noise causes hearing loss and other health problems. We have a responsibility to speak up just as experts did when the dangers of smoking became known,” says Fink. Fink adds that “through recent discoveries, the mechanisms by which noise damages auditory cells, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system are becoming clear.”  TQC Program Director Jamie Banks, PhD, notes that “[p]ublic health policy to protect the nation’s health from environmental noise is long overdue,” and declares that, “[TQC] will provide decision makers with the scientific evidence needed to make informed policy decisions.”

To learn more about TQC and it’s mission to protect the public from noise, visit the TQC website.

 

Why is Big Pharm focusing on new treatments for hearing loss and other auditory disorders?

Because they smell money, of course.  And because they sniff a potentially big money-making opportunity, the pharmaceutical industry is racing to find treatments for a host of auditory disorders.  It’s a shame there’s no money in prevention, because noise-induced hearing loss and most cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis are 100% preventable.  So if you don’t have hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis yet, save yourself some cash and limit your exposure to noise now.  Or try your luck and hope that at least one pharmaceutical company finds a cure before you experience symptoms.

 

 

Animals are responding to human noise:

Bats are adapting their hunting strategies to the noise of our cities.  The good news is that a study published in Science shows that bats appear to be successfully adapting to human noise.  But as a researcher not involved in that study notes, “[s]ome animals probably can’t [adapt].”  So what happens to them?  And what about humans?  As the world gets noisier, how will we cope?  Or not?  It’s certainly something that should be addressed sooner rather than later, because, as the article reports:

“This is way beyond bats now. This is about thinking about any animals,” says Paul Faure, the director of the Bat Lab at McMaster University, who was not involved in the study. “We are domesticating our planet, we’re creating noise pollution, we’re creating light pollution. We’re fundamentally altering the world that we live in.”

Noise and its effect on all animals, including humans, has been ignored for too long.  It’s more than just a nuisance.  Among other things, noise can damage hearing with one exposure.  It’s time that the federal, state, and local governments step up and regulate noise much as they regulate air or water pollution, treating noise as the public health hazard that it is.  It also is time for adults to assume some responsibility for their hearing and their children’s hearing by protecting themselves and others through the use of ear plugs and ear muff protectors, or by the simply lowering the volume when they can, and leaving a loud space when they cannot.  It’s time that we take noise-induced hearing loss and other noise-induced hearing injuries seriously.  Because until we do, people will continue to suffer permanent hearing injuries for which there is no cure, a particularly galling situation when one considers that noise-induced hearing injuries are 100% preventable.