Does Anybody Hear Me? Hearing as a Public Health Issue

This week’s post is an excerpt from the American Academy of Audiology Foundations’s An EAR to the Ground Report.  We will be distributing the full report at our booth at AudiologyNow! in April so please stop by to pick up a free copy. Enjoy!

Reprinted/republished with permission from the American Academy of Audiology.

Just over a decade ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that, worldwide, noise-induced hear­ing impairment is the most prevalent irreversible occupational hazard. In the WHO’s 1999 “Guidelines for Community Noise,” it was estimated that over 120 million people worldwide had disabling hearing difficul­ties (Environmental Health Perspectives 113, no. 1 [January 2005]). The causes of the growing noise pollution problem include increased population growth, urban sprawl, lack of noise-reduction regulations, an increasing number of vehicles and air traffic, and human dependence on noise-producing electronics.

In Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence, the author identifies silence as an endangered species. Indeed, he quotes Nobel Prize–winning bacteriologist Robert Koch to reinforce the potential future impact of noise pollution: “The day will come when man will have to fight noise as inexorably as cholera and the plague.” In his pursuit of silence, Hempton traverses the United States measuring the deci­bel levels of machines, cars, airplanes, rain, and even deer trekking through the woods. He visits state parks and federal buildings/department offices (the Federal Aviation Administration, for example). He informs, educates, and attempts to increase awareness of noise pollution and prevention. He perseveres, undaunted and optimistic in a time when, as he notes, noise is so prevalent, it’s taken for granted—so much so that noise is not among the 25 metrics that constitute the Environmental Performance Index rankings issued annu­ally by Yale University’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy. Those rankings include drinking water, indoor air pollution, industrial CO2 emissions, and pesticide regula­tion. The reason that noise pollution is excluded, according to the center’s director, is lack of consistent data collected methodologically among more than 150 countries.

Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that over 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous sound levels on the job (“Work Related Hearing Loss,” NIOSH Publication No. 2001-103, www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-103/). While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide hearing protection to workers who are overexposed to noise on the job, OSHA recognizes that the problem is difficult to monitor. In spite of requirements that include employer implementation of a continuing, effective hearing conservation program, the problem is not abating. Worse, noise pollution, both on and off the job, has a growing impact on quality of life.

Chew Faster, the Noise Is Killing Me—Purposeful Noise: Some workplace and environmental noise is purposeful. In April 2010, CNN aired a segment on how restaurants use loud music to help turn over tables and increase consumption. According to the segment, “In the mid-1980s, researchers at Fairfield University dem­onstrated that people increased their rate of chewing by almost a third when listening to faster, louder music, accelerating from 3.83 bites a minute to 4.4 bites a minute. A 2008 study in France further found that when music decibels are amped up, men not only consumed more drinks but consumed them in less time.”

Anti-noise activists describe the effect of “second­hand noise” as similar to that of secondhand smoke. In an article published in the July/August 2010 issue of Audiology Today, a study on the effects of utility-scale wind turbines shows that the production of low-frequency noise and vibration from these turbines can have nega­tive effects on people living and working near them. While the noise produced is not believed to cause hearing loss, it is known that the “emissions” do cause sleep disturbances. Coined “Wind- Turbine Syndrome,” other symptoms include headache, visceral vibratory vestibular disturbance, dizziness, tinnitus, ear pressure/pain, external auditory canal sensation, memory and concentration deficits, irritabil­ity, and fatigue. On October 6, 2010, the New York Times online business feed reported on efforts in a small Maine community to remove a new local wind farm. According to the article, “Lawsuits and complaints about turbine noise, vibrations and subsequent lost property value have cropped up in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among other states. In one case in DeKalb County, Ill., at least 38 families have sued to have 100 turbines removed from a wind farm there. A judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case in June.”

It’s Hear, It’s Everywhere: And the United States is not alone. Other countries are also plagued by increased noise pollution. According to the European Environment Agency, over 65 percent of the population is exposed to ambi­ent sound at levels above 55 dBA, while over 17 percent is exposed to levels above 65 dBA (Environmental Health Perspectives 113, no. 1 [January 2005]). This exposure can lead to hearing loss as well as other health and learning problems. It’s not just about hearing loss prevention and restoration—it’s a matter of systemic health and well-being.

LaPointe’s Area: Paul Broca and the Origins of Language in the Brain

In his new book, Paul Broca and the Origins of Language in the Brain, Leonard L. LaPointe describes Paul Broca as “a child prodigy who fulfilled his promise by becoming a brilliant neurologist, surgeon, anthropologist, and more.” Broca is the nineteenth-century scientist best known for identifying the region of the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex responsible for speech and language—“Broca’s Area.” However, as Dr. LaPointe writes, he was also a philosopher, inventor, political figure, and rabble-rousing horn player.LaPointe_PBOLB

In Paul Broca and the Origins of Language in the Brain, Dr. LaPointe tells the story of Broca’s life and details his contributions to the study of neurology. He paints a complete picture of the man by placing him in the context of his time and place and in the company of his contemporaries in the arts and sciences. LaPointe also details his own visits to the museums of Paris, where he conducted extensive research and visited the preserved brains of Broca’s most famous subjects: Leborgne and Lelong.

The book even contains an element of mystery: The brain of Paul Broca himself, which the famed scientist Carl Sagan once claimed to have seen preserved in formalin in the Museum of Man, is now nowhere to be found. Dr. LaPointe ponders the irony that “no one seems to know the whereabouts” of the brain of one of the greatest pioneers of brain research.

Dr. LaPointe with two Saudi Arabian friends at ASHA 2012.

Dr. LaPointe with two Saudi Arabian friends at ASHA 2012.

Dr. LaPointe, the Francis Eppes Professor of Communication Science & Disorder at Florida State University in Tallahassee, could be accused of being a Broca fanatic. He has a personalized license plate that reads “BROCA,” And he has been known to don a pair of Converse sneakers inscribed with the late neurologist’s moniker. Perhaps it is the author’s enthusiasm–along with his undeniable writing talent and vast experience in the field–that has resulted in the popularity of the new book. Paul Broca and the Origins of Language in the Brain was Plural’s best-selling book at ASHA 2012. We ran dry of copies during Dr. LaPointe’s Meet the Author session.

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ASHA 2011

Here at Plural we’re getting ready for ASHA! It’s next week in our hometown of San Diego, California. Are you going? Drop by the Plural booth, it’s number 907. We’ll have special conference sales and  some of our amazing authors will be around to sign their books! Can’t wait to see you there!

Plural is Headed to Voice Foundation

Stop by and visit our exhibit table at the upcoming Voice Foundation Meeting, June 1- June 5 in Philadelphia.

We will be giving away a copy of the new Handbook of Voice Assessments by Estella P.-M. Ma, PhD and Edwin M.-L. Yiu, PhD.  Plus, save 15% off of all of the titles on display.

See you there!

Plural is headed to COSM!

We are excited to be preparing for the COSM meeting in Chicago.  We have amazing discounts on our favorite books, including some titles that are 50% off!  We will also be having a drawing for two free books.  We will be at booth #618; please stop by and say hello!

Plural is Headed to AudiologyNOW! in Chicago

If you’re heading for Chicago for AudiologyNow!, then make sure you head over to the Plural booth #2945 for great savings on books and media from the world-leaders in the hearing sciences. As an attendee you can enjoy 15% discount on all display copies (more if you check in early). PLUS simply print out and present this post to any member of the Plural team at the booth and enjoy a further 5% discount on purchases over $100*

Even if you are not attending this year’s meeting, you can still benefit. Simply order any Plural title online between April 6 and 9 and save 15% by adding promo code AAA15 in your shopping cart.