How are a solar eclipse and a loud party alike?

Photo credit: Yvon Gallant

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My wife and I spent the Sunday morning before the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse with our oldest grandchildren, who are in preschool and kindergarten. I asked them, “Do you know about the eclipse?” The younger grandchild promptly declared, “Yes. The moon goes between the earth and the sun and blocks the sunlight.” The older one said, “And, looking at the sun is dangerous. Mommy got us special glasses.” We were both amazed that young children knew the basic science of how a solar eclipse occurs, and were reassured that they knew not to look directly at the sun.

I subscribe to JAMA, which had a patient education page about the dangers of looking at the sun in its April 2 issue, originally published in JAMA Ophthalmology. That got me to thinking about what other advice JAMA gives about sun and noise exposure. I then found a patient education page about sun exposure in JAMA Dermatology from 2018, but nothing about noise exposure. 

To answer the question I posed in the title of this blog, both a solar eclipse and a loud party expose those looking at the sun or listening to music to potentially dangerous energy. Looking directly at the sun without special glasses can damage our eyes’ basic receptors for vision, the rods and cones. Listening to loud music at a party can damage hair cells in the cochlea.

My main noise interest is trying to answer the question: “What is the safe noise level to avoid hearing loss?” I published an article about this last year. My goal is to inform health authorities and the public about safe noise levels and the dangers of noise exposure, in the hope of preventing noise-induced auditory disorders like hearing loss, tinnitus and hyperacusis. Prevention of disease is better than treatment, especially for auditory disorders.

I’m going to email the JAMA editor and ask that she commission a patient education page about the dangers of noise exposure, too.

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