Annoyance: A degradation of health

During my discussions in rural communities of the effects of noise on people, I’ve noticed some confusion and misunderstanding about what annoyance produced by noise impacts really is. I relate below an excellent explanation including a quote from Dr. Alice Suter, one of the most important contributors to our modern understanding of acoustics and noise effects on people.

I notice that “activity interference” and “disturbance” are more easily understood by people here in the US.

So the next time someone attempts to minimize, laugh off, or suggest that annoyance is not a medical concern… you will know differently.

The word annoyance is often misinterpreted by the general public … as a feeling brought about by the presence of a minor irritant. … in the medical usage it exists as a precise technical term and defines annoyance as a mental state capable of degrading health.

Suter (1991) presents a formal definition of annoyance:

“Annoyance has been the term used to describe the community’s collective feelings about noise ever since the early noise surveys in the 1950s and 1960s, although some have suggested that this term tends to minimize the impact. While “aversion” or “distress” might be more appropriate descriptors, their use would make comparisons to previous research difficult. It should be clear, however, that annoyance can connote more than a slight irritation; it can mean a significant degradation in the quality of life. This represents a degradation of health in accordance with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health, meaning total physical and mental well-being, as well as the absence of disease.”

From the web site of the Acoustical Society of America:

Dr. Alice Suter

Alice’s contributions to the Society have been numerous. In the Spring of this year, Alice stepped down as editor of Echoes, the Society’s popular and popularized publication about interesting happenings in acoustics. She has served as Echoes editor since 1991, and as co-editor in 1990 – its year of inception. Over that time, Alice conceptualized, organized, produced, and oversaw the publication of the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter Echoes each year, about 30 issues total.

Some of Alice’s other notable contributions to the Society include service on: the Executive Council, 1986-89; the Committee on Public Relations since 1988 – serving as Chair from 1988-94; the Technical Committee on Noise 1980-89, 1991-94, and 1995 to present; and the Technical Committee on Physiological and Psychological Acoustics 1976-79. At the regional level of the Society, Alice was elected President, Vice-President, and Secretary of the Cincinnati Chapter among years during 1989-1992. She became a Fellow of the Society in 1987.

Other professional organizations have also commended Alice’s work in acoustics. From the National Hearing Conservation Association she received the Outstanding Leadership and Service Award and the Outstanding Hearing Conservationist Award. She is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Alice began her career in acoustics after earning an M.S. in education of the deaf at Gallaudet. During the 60’s and early 70’s, her focus was clinical audiology – initially working as a clinical and subsequently supervisory audiologist at the Washington D. C. Department of Health, then moving to the DC Veterans Administration Hospital as a clinical audiologist while pursuing doctoral studies in audiology at the University of Maryland, and later becoming Director of the Audiometric Assistant Program of the National Association of Hearing and Speech Agencies. She received her Ph. D. in 1977.

Work on hearing conservation and noise control were central to Alice’s career from the mid 70’s on. It was during this time that she became influential in noise criteria development, regulation, and public policy. She was Senior Bioacoustical Scientist at the Office of Noise Abatement and Control, US Environmental Protection Agency from 1973-78 and Senior Scientist and Manager – Noise Standard, US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 1978-82. At OSHA, she made a vital contribution toward preservation of hearing health in US industry; she was principal author – overseeing development and preparation – of a significantly strengthened enacted amendment to OSHA’s noise standard for hearing conservation programs. Her last tour of regular employment, 1988-90, was as a Visiting Scientist in Research Audiology at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health where she originated and implemented research and information for dissemination on hearing-protection and – conservation programs.

Throughout the 90’s (in addition to editing Echoes), Alice has worked as a consultant and writer in various areas of hearing conservation and noise for clients in medicine, industry and government. Her clients have included the World Health Organization, citizens’ groups, and government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

Various professional organizations that have benefited from Alice’s participation during her career include the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation, for which she was on the Board of Directors from 1984-86, and also served as a Certified Course Director. For the American National Standards Institute, she was on the Acoustical Standards Management board and four different working groups concerned with noise, its measurement, or hearing conservation, among the years of 1978-91. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association enjoyed Alice’s service in various ways, including membership on five different committees and a task force. Alice continues to serve on the Publications Committee of the National Hearing Conservation Association and also participated on the Executive Council from 1984-87