by Sophia Ruan Gushée
We live in a noisy world. In cities, obvious sources come from honking drivers, and sirens from fire trucks and ambulances. We all hear noise from airplanes flying above, thunder and rain during a storm, barking dogs, and sometimes construction. Within households, loud sounds can come from appliances, babies, and children.
I'm grateful for having learned more about noise levels that can damage hearing. There are free apps that can measure sound so you can identify avoidable areas that may be dangerously high for you or your family.
I also appreciated learning that noises can influence moods and emotions. It helped me understand that "background" noises in my home work environment partially explains why I'm already irritated by the time the children are home from school! With this, I have better information from which I can brainstorm how to improve my moods.
The intention of this article is to raise awareness to your noise pollution, and offer tips to help you protect you and your loved ones.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States—and twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer.
Worldwide, the World Health Organization reported that there are 466 million people with disabling hearing loss. This number is expected to almost double to +900 million by 2050!
Contributing factors to this trend include an increasing older population, infections, and certain medications. However, there are preventable causes as well. The WHO estimates that "60% of childhood hearing loss is due to preventable causes." The tips below can help.
Hearing loss, however, is not the only concern from loud sounds.
The WHO describes noise as an "underestimated threat" that can contribute to short- and long-term health problems. Noise pollution can impair sleep, hearing, moods, and work and school performance. It can also increase the likelihood of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
We each have unique vulnerabilities, including certain populations. For example, extra precautions should be taken for babies and children.
Noise pollution can impact children's development, health, and academic achievement. Studies on how chronic exposure to aircraft noise can impact children found (World Health Organization 2019) that noise exposure can:
Start learning about avoidable sounds that may be dangerous for your hearing or put you in a bad mood. Since starting this article, I have become more aware of my daytime noises that irritate me: beeps from doors opening, alarms from fire trucks, my dog barking, the telemarketers calling, buses and trucks outside, and the vacuum cleaner running.
What can I do about these noises that I can't stop? I'll try to balance my moods in other ways. Available on demand via Pandora, the sounds from Krishna Das, a vocalist, always soothes me.
For you, if you can recognize noises that irritate you, then you can find a practical solution to counter those stressful effects.
To minimize your exposures to noises that can damage your hearing, download a free app (like NIOSH Sound Level Meter) or a paid one (like Decibel X PRO: dBA Noise Meter). Start using it at restaurants, cafes, exercise classes, movie theaters, concerts, etc.
The WHO recommends less than:
Recommendations vary on which level will create hearing loss. Generally, 85 decibels and higher can create hearing loss.
Keep in mind that the louder the sound, the less time it takes for hearing damage to occur.
To give you a sense of noise created from common sounds, below are estimates:
Below are simple tips to help protect you from noise pollution.
(1) World Health Organization 2018. "Deafness and hearing loss." 20 March 2019. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss
(2) World Health Organization 2019. "Data and Statistics." http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/noise/data-and-statistics
(3) CDC 2017. "Vital Signs: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Among Adults — United States 2011–2012." Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6605e3.htm
(5) Belluz, Julia. "The noise all around us that’s destroying our hearing, explained." Updated Jun 4, 2018. https://www.vox.com/2018/5/9/17280992/noise-hearing-loss-tinnitus
(7) NEIGHMOND, PATTI. "Study: Hearing Loss Increases In U.S. Teens" August 17, 2010. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129259165
(9) Basner et al. "Auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health." Lancet. 2014 Apr 12; 383(9925): 1325–1332. Published online 2013 Oct 30. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61613-X https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3988259/
(10) "Noise-Induced Hearing Loss." National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Last Updated Date: February 7, 2017. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss
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