The following are excerpts taken from an article titled: “Noise Reduction Within Your Practice: Meeting HIPAA Rules for Patient Privacy and Enhancing Healthcare Outcomes"
Written by Helen M. Torok, MD; Heather L. Funk, MBA; Aaron M. Funk, in the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthitic Surgury’s journal called, Cosmetic Dermatology, issue August 2011, Vol. 24 No. 8
The full article can be read, downloaded and saved in PDF form at: http://www.cosderm.com/Article.aspx?ArticleId=HckRo/HUFhE=
Although much of HIPAA covers the safeguarding of electronic data and other patient records, one specific component addresses oral communication within the healthcare setting. Just after HIPAA privacy enforcement went into effect in 2003, Sykes and Miller(3) reported in Health Lawyers Weekly that a leading complaint from patients regarding direct care providers was concern about overheard conversations within the practice as a source of compromised privacy.
This finding came as a surprise to the reporters and others in the medical community, as the concern previously had not been recognized as a sore point. Since then, the medical profession has acknowledged the importance of this issue and has been working to develop ways to insure the privacy of conversations between patients and their health-care providers.
In many hospitals across the country, HUSH (Help Us Support Healing) campaigns have been initiated to improve patient care and overall satisfaction by implementing various noise-reduction measures.
Also contributing to excessive noise in today’s healthcare settings are the hard surfaces necessary to ensure cleanliness, as well as the advanced heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that filter and deliver clean air to occupants. A recent Chicago Tribune article discussed studies that show the negative effects of noise on patient health in a medical setting, from stress and sleep deprivation to hypertension and tachycardia. The article also mentioned that current decibel levels in healthcare settings exceed the standards set by the World Health Organization.
Backup From Standards Organizations
The idea of a quieter work environment is not a new one, and there are a variety of technologies in place to deal with the problem as well as objective standards for proving that a medical practice or healthcare provider has done its best to comply with HIPAA.
Organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization, the American National Standards Institute, and ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) have provided ideas for noise reduction, and their support has been instrumental in winning medical privacy cases. These standards are applicable to a variety of industries and professions, including the fields of defense, finance, medical research, and law, and also are observed by the US General Services Administration, which manages federal building operations. It is possible to measure the noise levels of oral communication in the workplace according to government standards; best practices have been set and new tech-nologies have been developed to meet these standards. As of 2003, final modifications to the HIPAA Privacy Rule mandate that reasonable safeguards must be implemented to ensure speech privacy, and the HHS has clear expectations about what these safeguards entail.
According to HIPAA, the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange is named as the designated guide on technical matters for HHS and the Office for Civil Rights.(2) Today, healthcare centers and physician offices also are being designed with advice from entities such as the Healthcare Acoustics Research Team to assure compliance.
Products to Ensure Oral Privcy
A series of acoustical privacy products have undergone several levels of development and are installed in some 100 million square feet of new office space each year in healthcare, financial, and other office settings.(8) The utilization of panels and tiles are specific demonstrations, according to HIPAA, that indicate a healthcare facility or practice has made a bona fide effort to meet oral privacy needs.
Certain building materials can actually block sound waves from traveling through walls. To measure their effectiveness, these materials are assigned a Sound Transmission Class rating. Walls and windows, for instance, can be designed with this purpose in mind, but these noise-reduction products often are more expensive than traditional ones.
Another way to achieve sound diminution within your practice is to use surface materials that can absorb or deflect ambient sound waves, thus preventing reverberations from traveling around the room. This property is measured according to the Noise Reduction Coefficient, which rates how well a material absorbs sound.
Another measurement of noise-reduction technology is the Speech Intelligibility Index, which is calculated from acoustical measurements of speech and noise. Panels and other products can be designed to absorb certain frequencies of sound, meaning that although sound does get through, it is unintelligible and carries no meaning, which often has been called the “Charlie Brown effect” in reference to the popular Peanuts cartoons in which adult voices come across as unintelligible musical notes. Maintaining a low Speech Intelligibility Index is a proven way to achieve HIPAA compliance and can be easily achieved through various technologies in a medical practice.
Although active speech privacy systems such as white noise machines are popular, they do pose a few drawbacks; they mask meaningful conversation with perhaps even less-welcome noise rather than diminish sound levels altogether. Thus medical practitioners and patients may actually have to speak louder, increasing the likelihood that their conversations will be overheard, which is especially true in healthcare settings for older patients who already have compromised hearing and may rely on the use of hearing aids.
Adding noise to noise is adding pollution to pollution; in this sense, noise is the pollutant. It is similar to using a scented room refresher to mask noisome odors; it only adds to the overall smelliness of the room, and it can be harmful. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that exposure to continuous white noise sabotages the development of the auditory region of the brain, which may ultimately impair hearing and language acquisition, at least in young rats.(10) Unlike passive devices such as sound-dampening panels, white noise machines require electricity and are not guaranteed reliability all the time.
Other Requirements for Sound Mitigation Products in Healthcare
Aside from the acoustic technology and speech privacy capabilities, other factors must be considered when selecting a sound-dampening product in a medical setting, including the product’s flammability rating and its ability to withstand the growth of germs, mold, and mildew. Some traditional sound panels, for instance, are wood framed with cotton inside. Obviously these materials are highly flammable and it is always essential to check a product’s fire rating. It is better to look for a product that is not as combustible; one particular panel on the market has a steel slag and basalt rock interior and is covered with a cloth that does not promote the growth of mold or mildew, meeting both flammability and antibiotic/antifungal standards. Uneven surfaces inside the panel cause the sound to get lost through deflection.
Today’s healthcare settings should put patients at ease while adding eye appeal. Look for sound-dampening panels and other products that offer a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors to customize the look and style to fit your specific needs. Panels can even be made into “sound clouds” for use on the ceiling. Some products on the market actually can be covered with messages you might wish to impart to patients, including advice about healthful living or introductions to new staff members.
It is imperative to make sure your dermatology practice or medical facility is compliant with HIPAA sound pri¬vacy mandates. Your staff also will benefit from working in a setting in which communication is made easier and less stressful.
All from Trillium Creek Dermatology and Aesthetic Center, Medina, Ohio. Dr. Torok also is from Northwestern Ohio University College of Medicine, Rootstown. The authors report no conflicts of interest in relation to this article.
Article References (and Additional Resources)
1. Standards for privacy of individually identifiable health informa¬tion; final rule. Fed Regist. 2002;67(157):53181-53273. To be codified at 45 CFR §160 and 164. http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/privacyrule/privruletxt.txt. Published August 14, 2002. Accessed June 23, 2011.
2. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 42 USC §201 (2003).
3. Sykes DM, Miller SA. HIPAA privacy enforcement begins. Health Lawyers Weekly. October 2003.
4. H.U.S.H. campaign for a healing environment. Penobscot Valley Hospital Web site. http://www.pvhme.org/pvh.nsf/View/Hush. Published March 1, 2010. Accessed June 27, 2011.
5. Nightingale F. Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not. New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company; 1860.
6. Deardorff J. Hospitals drowning in noise. Chicago Tribune. April 24, 2011. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-04-24/health/ct-met-hospital-noise-20110424_1_hospitals-neonatal-intensive-care-unit-noise. Accessed June 15, 2011.
7. Strategic National Implementation Process. Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange Web site. http://www.wedi.org/snip.Accessed July 8, 2011.
8. Sykes DM, Miller SA. Oral Communications: Myths and Facts [white paper]. Reston, VA: Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange; January 2004.
9. Health information privacy. US Department of Health and Human Services Web site. http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/faq/safeguards/197.html. Updated March 14, 2006. Accessed July 18, 2011.
10. White noise delays auditory organization in brain [news release]. ScienceDaily; April 18, 2003. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/04/030418081607.htm. Accessed July 15, 2011. n
READ MORE: Related Information
About Dr. Helen M. Torok, MD
Trillium Creek Dermatology and Aesthetic Center, Medina, Ohio
Paul Henry and his wife Jeanette tore their house apart trying to locate a bothersome noise.
One morning about a month ago, I woke up with a throbbing headache – it was throbbing in a rhythmic way, to the beat of some sound; it took me a minute to wake up enough to figure it out. It was throbbing to the beat of a relentless “beep…beep…beep-ing” noise, and I realized pretty quickly it had to be a dying battery in my smoke alarm, way up there on the ceiling. I knew this because it happened once in my last house which had 17 foot ceilings, and I had to wait hours for a handyman with a huge ladder to come and fix it. It was awful.
So that morning last month I took two aspirin and waited for some pain relief, which came, but the beeping noise was agitating. I have no ladder – I need to get a ladder – just a step stool, and I could just barely reach the thing. By now the noise had really gotten to me, so I just tore the unit out of the ceiling and ripped the failing battery out of it. It hung there like the carcass of a battered piñata.
You know what? It kept beeping.
I could not find another battery anywhere in the house, and I am a battery hoarder. I need to have a battery available to me at any hour of the day or night; you know how it is, when you need a battery. So I always make sure I have a stockpile. But I moved a few months ago, and there are still some boxes…anyway, I tore the house apart and could not find my battery stash.
About an hour had passed since I woke up with my head dancing to the beep beat. My noise-induced high blood pressure by now was through the roof. I had already grown to hate the beep. I despised it, I wanted it dead. I was having crazy person thoughts over this beep after just an hour of its relentless taunting. I threw on jeans and a t-shirt and got out of there. I had to get away from it. I went to Walgreens and bought a new battery, and then I slummed around town for a few hours. I needed to get home, I had a ton of work to do, but I just couldn’t go back there. Not yet. I was chastising myself for not knowing where my battery stash was, and in fact I would unpack those last 10 boxes that night. I swore to myself, never again.
Noise can make you nutty. It can make you tear your house apart looking for batteries.
OK, I’m going somewhere with this. Bear with me.
How many of us have, at least once in our lives, told someone we “tore the house apart” looking for something – missing car keys, reading glasses, or the single roll of Scotch tape that we keep for gift wrapping but we can never find when it comes time to wrap a gift? When we say we tore the house apart, we don’t mean it literally. Maybe we emptied a few drawers and dumped the contents of the kitchen garbage can onto the floor to find something, but we don’t literally tear the house apart.
OK, so did you ever say you tore the house apart looking for a noise? The source of a noise, that is? A mystery sound that is keeping you awake nights and driving you crazy during waking hours?
Paul and Jeanette Henry were in just such a predicament when a mystery sound - some low level beeping sound - drove the retired couple to, as they said themselves, the “edge of sanity.” Their words.
And low frequency noises have been found to drive people to that bad place. In fact, studies completed just this past summer have found that certain sounds that aren’t particularly loud fall within a range of megahertz – a unit of sound that measures wave frequencies, like in radio waves – that is incompatible with happiness and general well-being. There’s just something about these low level sound waves that wreak havoc on the brain via the human ear, and this was the kind of noise that Paul and Jeanette Henry were experiencing.
They tore their house apart trying to locate the source of the noise. Literally, they tore their house apart.
They called in electricians and builders and asked them to locate the source of the sound and put a lid on it, to no avail. Next, Paul and Jeanette took crowbars to their walls and tore out whole sections of drywall, tore up floorboards, ripped gaping holes in their ceilings because the noise was just driving them that nuts.
And yet the menacing beep continued to taunt them, probably something like the Raven in the Edgar Allen Poe masterpiece, which if you’ll recall ended badly.
For more than a year, Paul and Jeanette Henry were harassed by this low level beep that could not be found. They were becoming seriously sick with noise-induced stress, sapped of all energy from noise-induced sleeplessness, and from the look of Mr. Henry’s photo in the local newspaper, shedding some major tears in frustration. These two are in their late 60’s, retired, and living with a monster that wouldn’t leave them alone. It’s heart wrenching to think that this nice retired couple had to go through such misery, and that their house has holes in the walls, floors and ceilings all over the place – you can almost picture their manic frustration as they took crowbar and hammer to every solid surface, only to be left with a mess - and a relentless beep…beep…beep.
I had a lump in my throat just reading about their plight, the memory of my own beeping apocalypse still relatively fresh in my mind. Why couldn’t anyone help these poor people? It seems crazy that electricians and builders couldn’t locate the noise source!
Nothing and no one could help them.
They meticulously took apart every one of their grandchildren’s toys in the hopes of discovering a short circuit in a talking Muppet. No luck.
A year of this insanity drove them to the brink. Noise can do that. It makes the blood pressure rise, it exacerbates stress and depression, it can lead to heart attacks and strokes, and the resulting insomnia makes all these conditions even worse. It makes people knock huge holes in their walls, floors and ceilings – people who ordinarily would never do such a rash and destructive thing.
It makes people flee their homes, leaving their smoke alarm hanging from the ceiling like a beaten piñata.
Mr. Henry said that when they first noticed the noise, it wasn’t consistent; it just went off every now and then, so they lived with it.
Eventually, it was a 24/7 menace, beeping every 30 seconds for the better part of a full year.
The Henrys were at their wits end.
One night, Mr. Henry decided to turn off all the lights in the house and follow the sound in the dark, letting his ears guide him. The relentless beep…beep…beep led him through the house, in the dark, like a bloodhound only without needing to smell anything. The sound led Mr. Henry to an old chest of drawers; when he opened the drawer, the beep got louder.
There it was – a 10-year-old smoke alarm unit with a dying battery that someone had shoved in the back of the drawer, probably about a year earlier.
You know the relief they felt – after 12 long months of tearing the house apart to get to the noise source, they had it. Now they were suddenly faced with the realization that it was actually something so simple, and they probably had some burning sense of horror over the condition of their post-beep home. Like waking up out of a nightmare and realizing you put the cat in the dryer and you can’t even believe you did that! And you can't take it back.
But mostly they were relieved. Mrs. Henry says they were amazed, and really relieved.
Noise is a powerful thing. The couple lived with that relentless beeping for so long, the memory of it still torments them. That beep is embedded in their brains.
“We still keep thinking we can hear it," says Mrs. Henry.
I am relieved to say, the sound of my smoke alarm’s beep does not linger in my mind. And although I did manage to shut it up by getting a new battery in it, I was unable to get the unit back in position in the ceiling. I can’t reach, so I have to wait until one of my sons comes to visit me, and both of them live far away, so it could be a while. So I am haunted by my battered piñata of a smoke alarm, still hanging from the ceiling. But at least it’s not beeping.
The Navatri Festival is beautiful, colorful, vibrant, and way too loud
In India, noise pollution is at historic highs and festivals are compounding the problem. India's culture is steeped in tradition, and festivals observing sacred occasions are an important part of part of Hundu tradition.
The problem is, festivals are loud - very loud. Noise at these events can rise to more than 60 decibels above the legal limit, and despite stricter laws and increased public awareness of the health problems associated with such high levels of noise pollution, little seems to be changing.
The video below was taken by a news crew during this week's Navratri Festival in Mumbai:
Navaratri is an important Hindu festival of worship and dance. In Sanskrit Navatri literally means "nine nights" and that's how long it lasts.
But as cities like Mumbai, Surat, Bhopal and many others become immerced in the cacophony of the festival's health-threatening decibel levels, no one in government is enforcing or even monitoring the noise levels. In fact, it seems they're encouraging noisemakers. The Mumbai police, for instance, announced their decision to relax a 10 p.m. loudspeaker deadline till midnight on the last two days of the festival, although they reminded people that noise levels should still remain within the prescribed norms as per the law. The result? Noise levels were monitored from 90 to 117 decibels in 45 and 50 decibel "silence zones."
That bears repeating: 90 to 117 decibels, continuously, for nine nights and 10 days. To put that in perspective, OSHA warns that workers in any business - say a restaurant or club - with noise levels above 80 decibels may not work in that environment for more than eight hours in a 24 hour period. Why? They'll suffer hearing damage, for starters, and they will be vulnerable to a variety of noise-related health problems.
While India's Supreme Court has ruled that noise levels should not exceed the maximum set by law — 55 decibels (dBs) during daytime and 45 dBs after 10 pm – even during festivals, politicians of all parties place pressure on police forces to relax the noise levels and avoid enforcing noise laws, even in residential and hospital zones during festivals.
"They don't care about patients and students," said one resident of Malviya Nagar, Bhopal who was interviewed in the midst of the celebrations. "We are not averse to celebrating any festivals but there should be some limit."
Even hospital zones, which have the strictest noise cap at 45 decibels, are registering decibel levels between 90 and 117, with no police or government control stepping in. Exposure to noise levels as high as those being recorded at Navaratri celebrations, even for just a few hours, can cause elevation in blood pressure, raise stress levels, and impair hearing. After nine days and nights of noise levels this high, the possibility of suffering from a noise-realted health event rises sharply.
And for hospital patients, children, and pets that have no ability to escape the noise, the aftermath can be particularly harsh. Hospital patients exposed to noise levels considerably lower than those being measured at festival locations cause patients to suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, elevated blood pressure, and stress, all of which impairs healing.
Children exposed to such high decibel levels show a marked inability to focus, and are less able to keep up with school work. The aftermath of noise-induced hearing damage is often irreversible, a serious issue for not only children, but for everyone.
This is not an easy problem to address, as religious festivals like Navaratri are sacred to India's enormous Hindu population and have been celebrated for centuries. But the noise from firecrackers, music, loudspeakers, crowds and traffic is harming Indian citizens.
This is serious.
Some Indian citizens are taking proactive measures to raise awareness and cut noise pollution, particularly during the many festivals. Many are uploading decibel measuring software to their smartphones, measuring noise levels at a multitude of locations, and filing a complaint with the police. Every year, tolerance for festival noise diminishes, and people are now taking the issue into their own hands.
We've all experienced the frustration of trying to focus on a challenging or difficult task, only to be distracted by noise. By studying how annoying sounds that can interfere with our productivity, arrchitects are learning to design better building environments, and law makers can more effectively address noise regulations, right?
That's the goal, or at least part of it, of a new study on how short bursts of noise affect the mental state of people who are trying to focus on a difficult problem - in this study, it's math problems. That's right, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln played short bursts of noise clips while test participants tried to solve math problems that required focus.
The researchers were able to document a general trend in lowered performance when louder noise was played, but more interestingly, they were able to identify the sound level ranges that caused study participants to make note of their annoyance.
The research was triggered by NASA's low-boom supersonic aircraft program. Sonic booms are generated when aircraft traveling faster than the speed of sound leave cones of compressed air in their wake - the resulting noise is extremely loud and can be unnerving to the unsuspecting who are within earshot.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began flying supersonic jets over Oklahoma City routinely back in 1964 as part of a test called Operation Bongo, immediately causing citizens to complain and file damage claims. Today, NASA is developing aircraft that leave a softer boom, if you will, although it is not clear at what volume the regular booms caused by commercial supersonic aircraft flying over land would be acceptable.
For this study, Architectural Acoustician Lily Wang of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln worked with graduate student Christopher Ainley to design an experiment that tests how sudden bursts of noise affects a person's performance and perceptions. In the past, sudies have looked at noises that are very loud - 80 decibels or more - which, as expected, established a marked effect on the test subject's ability to concentrate and solve problems.
For this study, Wang and her team reduced the volume to determine if a threshold value exists at which noise does not significantly affect the study's participants. Twenty-seven participants were instructed to memorize 6-digit numbers. Next, they were shown a four-digit number and instructed to subtract the second number from the first number in their heads, then type the answer on a keyboard. Researchers would intermittently play a burst of noise for a quarter of a second while study participants were being shown the second number.
The noise bursts (or "booms") ranged between 50 and 80 decibels - comparable to sound levels on a suburban street corner at the low end, and to a loud vacuum-cleaner at the high end. The test subjects ended up solving a lower percentage of problems correctly when interrupted with a noise at the louder end of the spectrum, but the difference between the interference cause by the louder noise and the lower noise was not enough to be statistically significant. So it appears that volume isn't necessarily the only factor when it comes to noise causing a distraction and reducing a person's productivity.
There were significant variations in the levels of annoyance that participants reported when quizzed afterwards about their perceptions of the varying noise levels, however, and it appeared that most managed to somewhat adjust to the quieter booms while the louder ones remained jolting.
"This suggests that the acceptable noise from sonic booms should not be higher than 70 decibels once it gets inside the house," Wang says.
It's important to note that the researchers' lab did not have the necessary equipment to mimic the very low-frequency component of the noise produced by sonic booms, which is an important factor in noise perception, but Wang says the study helped to clarify the effects of the short-duration characteristics of the booms. Next up, researchers hope to study perceptions of the "rattling" component of noise that is often associated with supersonic jets passing overhead.
Researchers will report their findings at the 164th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), held Oct. 22-26 in Kansas City, Missouri.
The term is such a universal one, it’s long been the catchphrase for annoying sounds – nails on a chalkboard. In fact, when it comes to universally hated noises, you’d think that would be number one on the list, right? But nails on a chalkboard, as hated a sound as it is, does not render the top levels of annoyance according to a new study just released last week and published in the Journal of Neuroscience. But it does stir the same emotion receptors in the brain as the sound of a crying baby!
Since we already understand that noise is basically any unwanted sound, the difference between noise pollution and annoying noise can more readily be differentiated – or can it? When Newcastle University scientists rated 74 different sounds to determine which ones most upset the human brain, their intention was to measure the psychological and physiological responses associated with specific sounds and gain a better understanding of the brain’s reaction to noise. This type of science, known as psychoacoustics, can be useful in finding treatments for people who have a diminished tolerance to sounds, and for autistic people who often exhibit a heightened sensitivity to noise.
Some sounds cause us to recoil – not necessarily because they’re very loud, but because they trigger a level of distress or discomfort within in us.
As noise pollution fast becomes a global epidemic, scientists are devoting more and more time to sound and noise studies, and the more we understand the amazing capabilities of the human ear, the closer we come to protecting our hearing and our health in a world filled with all sorts of noise.
For this study, researchers placed 16 brave volunteers into a MRI machine, played 74 different sounds, and asked the participants to rate the most annoying. The top 10 most annoying sounds, (go ahead, click on the links to hear them if you can stand it) beginning with the worst offender, include:
1. Knife scraping on a bottle
2. Fork on a glass
3. Chalk on a chalkboard
4. Ruler on a bottle
5. Nails on a chalkboard
6. Female scream
7. Anglegrinder (power tool)
8. Brakes on a cycle squealing
9. Baby crying
10. Electric drill
What the scientists found most interesting is that the sounds ranked as the worst (a knife on a bottle? really?) were shown to have registered the most activity in those parts of the brain associated with both sound processing (auditory cortex) and emotion (amygdala). The MRI scans showed researchers that both portions of the brain lit up in direct proportion to the perceived unpleasantness of the sound, and that the amygdala interacted with signals coming from the auditory cortex when the noises were played – that is to say, emotion and sound responded in unison to certain sounds. This interaction increased the amount of unpleasantness experienced when hearing those most irritating sounds at the top of the list – all of which happen to occur in the frequency range between 2,000 and 5,000 Hz.
Why would the brain’s emotional center activate specifically for sounds within this range?
“It appears there is something very primitive kicking in,” says Sukhbinder Kumar, the study's lead researcher. “Although there’s still much debate as to why our ears are most sensitive (to sounds) in this range, it also includes the sound of screams, which we find intrinsically unpleasant.”
In the past, scientists speculated that certain high-pitched sounds that fall within this Hz range sound so irritating to humans because they are acoustically similar to warning alarm calls in our primate ancestors, and somewhere along the evolutionary roadway humans evolved the innate tendency to find certain sounds emotionally terrifying – part of the “fight or flight” response. Theoretically, this tendency might have been valid, despite the fact that fingernails scratching on a chalkboard have nothing to do with actual predators.
More recent research dilutes the validity of this theory, especially since recent studies on primates found that the animals’ reactions to both high-pitched scraping noises (like nails on a chalkboard) and plain white noise were similar, whereas humans clearly find the high-pitched scraping sounds much more unpleasant.
A simpler hypothesis seems to make more sense – which is that the actual shape of the human ear happens to amplify certain frequencies to a degree that they trigger physical pain. If that’s the case, the repeated sensation of pain associated with these noises may be causing our minds to automatically consider them to be unpleasant.
While researchers in the field of psychoacoustics continue to study sounds and the brain's interpretations of them, they may be able to get to the bottom of why certain noises are innately irritating to virtually everyone.
As studies have already proven that noise pollution can exacerbate certain health conditions, including mental health problems such as depression and stress, this newest study may offer insight into the effects of certain frequency sounds on not only people who suffer from emotional disorders, but also on physical disorders such as tinnitus and migraines, in which a heightened perception of unpleasant sounds seems to be at play.
The study's findings surprised even the researches, as the brain's emotion centers prove to be more interwoven with noise perception than had previously been known.
On that note, I leave you with a list of the least unpleasant sounds listed in the study, which offers at least one surprise:
2. Baby laughing
4. Water flowing
Wow! This is cool.
London’s street noise just got a make-over.
Like any bloated, busy international hub of a city, London has a noise pollution problem that is indicative of a 21st century urban environment that hasn’t been quiet since forever. Traffic, sirens, horns, crowds – you know, real city noise.
But last week, an incredibly clever sound artist and designer named Yori Suzuki and his collaborator, headphone developer AiAiAi hit the road in their Sound Taxi – an ambitious 67- design and sound project on wheels that promises to make the city sound better. Nicer. More melodic.
And it does so by trapping the noise pollution straight out of the airspace and converting it to music.
And it does – at least if you’re in or near the Sound Taxi as it’s driven around London, taking in noise pollution through a roof-mounted measurement mic, recycling the external noise and releasing it back into its surroundings in a sort of space-agey soft jazz; well, at least that’s what the tracks I heard sound like. No two tunes are going to be the same, as Suzuki’s specially designed sound software contained within the vehicle converts the chaotic noise pollution it’s collecting from the streets of London and immediately converts it to the software’s purified re-mixes that are actually quite pleasant - far superior to the lumbering of a diesel truck or the hissing of a double decker bus.
The music is dispersed through the barrage of horns that give the Sound Taxi the look of a vintage black London taxi – probably an Austin FX4, which were produced between 1948 and 1958 – sprouting shiny silver versions of those huge Indian horns that are generally used to call worshipers to temple. It’s not a low key ride.
Passengers in the Sound Taxi are provided with headphones to listen to the noise-pollution-turned-calming-melodies during their ride. Folks on the street are also treated to the converted music, and it draws looks of surprise followed by smiles from most upon first glance. Most of the Sound Taxi’s speakers are embedded in the side of the vehicle, with eight of the enormous India horns reaching out to the city from the roof.
Liat Clark of Wired Magazine, UK, took a ride in the Sound Taxi last week and had some interesting observations.
With each passing motorbike and each hiss of a bus entering the rooftop mic, a new sound exits the speakers, turning it at one point into a “tinkering hi-hat frenzy,” according to Clark.
The rooftop measurement microphone analyzes the incoming noise’s different frequencies and translates them into musical times using Ableton Live loop-based recording software. For example, siren noise taken in through the mic reads at a medium frequency, generating a medium melody in which the bass isn’t too rough.
In a city that sees most residents trying to escape the urban noise pollution that surrounds them by wearing headphones and tuning out the world around them, the Sound Taxi elicits reactions from almost everyone it passes. Clark describes it aptly:
“A quick spin round Mayfair and builders taking a break on Burlington Gardens can't wipe the sheer glee off their faces, Bond Street shop workers run out when the cab's in traffic to pose for Twitpics, and tourists just start laughing, presumably thinking, 'oh the English, what are they like?'”
Fans of art-based automobile oddities (yes, there are fans of art-based automobile oddities) are able to track the cab’s movements from the Make The City Sound Better website (www.makethecitysoundbetter.com) offering a live feed that streams the Sound Taxi’s travels, compiled tracks are played, and GPS tracking can help users find its current location.Unfortunately, the Sound Taxi went off road September 21, but rumor has it that it will be back.
Although the Sound Taxi was developed to promote sound engineering software, Suzuki may have inadvertently paved a new way to address noise pollution on the streets of the world’s busiest – and noisiest cities.
Check it out for yourself, and tell me this isn’t better than the sounds of garbage trucks lumbering and ambulances screaming past your ears 24/7?
I thought not.
Whether you’re planning to sell your home this year or in five years, installing effective noise abatement material in your home can be a valuable selling point, particularly if a noise issue creates an obstacle to selling.
Depending on the noise source and the layout of your home, effective noise insulating material can offer various levels of sound blocking and absorption. If potential homebuyers are walking through your house and the next door neighbor’s dog is barking throughout the entire tour, there’s a good chance that buyers are going to look elsewhere. Same thing if you can hear your neighbor’s dinner conversations, or a plumbing how-do-you-do every time someone uses the bathroom next door; potential buyers are turned off by noisy neighbors and noisy environments.
For any home seller unfortunate enough to live in a less-than-serene environment, loud noises can be deal breakers. The problem can be compounded if your home is in an urban area, although most city residents expect to hear some noise. However, peace and quiet is an extremely attractive option for any home, particularly when the home happens to have a crying newborn or argumentative couple on the other side of a thin wall.
More realtors are recommending that homeowners invest in high quality soundproofing material either attached to the studs under drywall, or installed directly on top of the drywall in condos, duplexes, townhouses and apartments along the shared wall. In cases of a problematic noise source being external, such as roadway traffic, a noise barrier product along the wall facing the noise source can make all the difference to potential buyers who may fall in love with the place, but base their final decision on the noise levels inside the home.
No noise reducing material is going to create a completely soundproof environment – it’s impossible to achieve 100 percent quiet in any room or structure, but high quality noise barrier and noise absorption materials can achieve a serious drop in audible sound depending on the noise source, the structure of the home itself, and the soundproofing materials you choose.
In some condos, apartments or duplexes, there may be restrictions on disturbing existing drywall, so tearing it out to install noise blocking material to the studs may be out of the question unless it’s new construction or a refurbish. In that case, a proven noise abatement material that goes up directly over the common wall’s drywall (just one side is all that’s needed) can provide the same amount of noise deadening as the under-drywall options, and it can be finished to match the original wall in texture, ready to paint or wallpaper to match the rest of the room.
The beauty of the second option is that it is a fairly easy installation that can go up almost anywhere and can even be a weekend project for a few handy people. So, a bedroom that is getting a little too much noise action from the adjacent laundry room, or a home office or home theater that really need high levels of quiet to function their best is going to benefit from installing high quality sound abatement material.
For homeowners living next door to a dog that barks non-stop, noise blocking fencing material can be hung directly on an existing chain link fence or other fencing structure to create another layer of quiet between the property and the noise source.
It’s a noisy world, and it’s growing noisier all the time. Homeowners in urban and suburban communities have much to consider when it comes time to staging their properties to sell, and in the past a problem like exposure to external noise could easily send potential buyers running.
Today, high tech noise blocking material is becoming a sought after perk among new home buyers nationwide.
But why wait until it’s time to sell to install noise abatement material? Like installing a swimming pool or upgrading the kitchen, installing soundproofing material in your home is a perk you can enjoy while you’re living there, and one that will make the home that much easier to sell when the time comes.
By now, most people know that noise pollution is unhealthy. Still, too many aren’t familiar with just how unhealthy. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been increasing its public service messages worldwide since identifying noise as a serious environmental hazard. As part of its campaign to educate global audiences on the dangers of noise pollution, WHO has clarified its warnings by releasing a list of the seven most severe health problems related to noise.
For people living in urban communities, noise pollution is dangerously high, according to WHO. By dangerously high, they’re saying anything over 55 decibels, which equates to an ordinary conversation. Crowded public spaces that combine industrial, commercial, and some residential noise – think industrial and manufacturing plants, air traffic, bustling restaurants, bars and clubs, highways and freeways, and even everyday sounds such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and construction equipment – add up to noise that makes people sick. In fact, we’re asking for trouble in the form of tinnitus just by attending a live concert, sporting event or festival.
It may be hard to believe that so many noisy elements of our everyday lives can be dangerous to our health, a message WHO has been trying to spread for the past decade.
In a nutshell, here are the top seven health effects that noise pollution can lead to:
1. Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Arguably the most common consequence to long stretches of exposure to noise is tinnitus, usually described as a ringing sound within the ear although in some people the sound can be a high-pitched whining, buzzing, hissing, ticking, clicking or roaring. It can take the form of a sound like crickets or tree frogs chirping, beeping, sizzling, sounds that slightly resemble human voices, or even a pure steady tone similar to a tone heard during a hearing test. Tinnitus can be continuous, or it can come and go, and it can cause a lot of distress.
According to WHO, exposure to noise above 55 decibels for long periods of time – more than eight hours daily – can be problematic. Exposure to decibel levels above 85 for eight hours or longer can result in serious hearing damage. A large truck lumbering down a freeway is what 85 decibels sound like. Live rock concerts easily spike over 100 decibels, and are notorious for their after-effects, which can include a ringing in the ears or even temporary hearing loss, depending on the decibel levels, proximity to speakers and length of the concert. When you leave the concert and the tingling in your ears never goes away, you’ve developed tinnitus.
2. Lowered productivity.
Researchers have found that noise pollution has the life-changing effect of reducing cognitive function. In school children, this means delayed learning, stunted reading skills, high rates of distraction, lowered information retention skills and academic performance. For businesses, noise related declines in productivity are expensive, and the impact on businesses is believed to be in the billions of dollars. Adults whose productivity is diminished because of noise pollution experience stunted problem-solving skills, work performance and drive.
3. Decreased communication skills.
Prolonged exposure to noise reduces our ability to communicate effectively. In addition to losing the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, people who have been affected by noise pollution are more readily susceptible to stress, confusion, indecision, faltering speech and impatience.
4. Sleep disorders.
Chronic exposure to high noise levels can interfere with sleep and eventually lead to insomnia, a medical condition that can lead to other health problems. Depression, emotional strain, aggressiveness, and antisocial behavior are just a few of the side effects of noise-induced sleep deprivation. Any time the body’s natural sleep cycle is obstructed, it becomes a health risk that can lead to serious mental and physical illnesses including an increased risk of heart attack.
5. Heart arrhythmia.
Exposure to excessive noise can cause stress and exacerbate cardiovascular disease. It can lead to an elevated heart rate, hypertension, and inappropriate triggers of the brain chemicals that give us our “flight-or-fight” response, which nature meant to alert us to imminent life-or-death danger. When noise is causing false triggers of these chemicals, it takes a toll on the heart and nervous system.
6. Exacerbates psychiatric disorders.
Although medical researchers say that noise does not cause psychiatric disorders, people suffering from a psychiatric condition may find their symptoms worsened by exposure to high noise levels. Those suffering from mental illness experience heightened anxiety, phobias, aggressive behavior, stress, mood swings, and antisocial behavior. On medically weakened patients, particularly children and the elderly, the repercussions of exposure to noise can interfere with healing and weaken their ability to cope.
7. Triggers Negative Emotions.
Clinical studies have shown time and again that low frequency noise - noise from amplified music, pumps, fans, boilers, electrical installations, ventilation systems, and other sources – can conjure extremely negative emotions in some people. Symptoms can include aggression, fatigue, unhappiness, despair, anxiety and distraction, which can influence the everyday behavior of those exposed for long periods of time. Antisocial behaviors such as door slamming and avoiding neighbors or friends can be the result of chronic exposure to low frequency noise.
As more people become familiar with the obvious and subtle damage noise pollution can have on their physical and mental well-being, the expectation is that more individuals will take steps to eliminate or block excessive noise from their environments, for their own well-being and the well-being of loved ones.
When a New York Times reporter wrote a stunning expose on noise levels in Manhattan businesses last month, folks were in an uproar. Noise pollution is a growing problem, not just in America’s biggest citied but in smaller residential communities as well. The New York Times article measured off-the-charts noise levels in restaurants, gyms, bars, and an assortment of other businesses.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles Times reporter Betty Hallock set out on a similar mission, clandestinely measuring noise levels in some L.A. restaurants as customer complaints about restaurant noise has risen, and food critics have taken to mentioning the noise levels in their reviews.
The goal was to answer the question, “Just how noisy is it out there in restaurant land?”
Everyone who has ever stepped foot in a restaurant understands the problem; noise in eateries can ruin even a great meal. No one wants to yell to their dinner companion just to be heard; we just want a nice meal and conversation. That can’t be asking too much, can it?
First, let’s take a look at the structural problems. Restaurants have a lot of hard surfaces – stainless steel, wood, glass, porcelain. There is almost no noise absorption going on anywhere, and exacerbating the problem is the fact that noise – in the form of kitchen activities, serving activities, customers talking, music (if there is any), traffic from outside, doors opening and closing - reverberates off of hard surfaces, turning ordinary noise into crazy obnoxious noise that makes us want to eat fast and leave.
Hallock picked up a decibel Pro sound meter and headed out to dozens of restaurants and bars in the Greater Los Angeles area. In many establishments, she measured decibel readings as high as 90.
A normal conversation will register at 60-65 decibels, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends businesses keep their noise levels under 80 decibels to protect the hearing of staff. As Hallock points out in her article, a decibel reading of 90 is the equivalent of standing next to a loud power lawn mower.
One thing I found particularly interesting about Hallock’s report is her excellent decision to clarify the fact that sound meters read sound intensity, not loudness. Sound intensity measures the pressure of sound waves traveling through the air from the noise source. Loudness is simply the noise we hear, and it’s subjective. What seems too loud to me may not bother my dinner date as much. The issue of perception is significant when it comes to noise, but for now we’ll stick to restaurant clatter.
We already understand that a restaurant's noise level will vary significantly depending on the day or even the hour of the day. Hallock measured decibel levels of 80 or higher consistently during high traffic hours. To restaurant guests, this translates to an unpleasant dining experience, but for staff, spending eight hours or more in an environment louder than 80 decibels can lead to permanent hearing damage. In fact, WHO recently reported that 80 decibels might be high, that hearing damage can occur in lower decibel ranges.
Hallock recorded “noise snapshots” taken from some of L.A.’s worst offenders in the restaurant noise department. This can’t be good for business.
1. Bottega Louie, Downtown Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Sunday. Decibel reading: 87
This is a10,000 square foot restaurant with an open, stainless steel kitchen, soaring 20-foot ceilings, a marble-tiled floor and 20,000 feet of brass millwork. Hard surface hell when you’re talking noise. The restaurant had installed sound-absorbing material under chairs and banquettes, but by 7:30 p.m. Sunday the clamor of dishes, kitchen activities, and hundreds of guests talking took the decibel meter to 87. “But it sounds even louder,” Hallock writes.
Hallock’s sound equivalent: Heavy traffic
2. Laurel Hardware, West Hollywood, 8:38 p.m. Saturday. Decibel reading: 88.3
Music cranked, patrons “out for a cocktail-fueled good time.” With a packed house of guests in various stages of inebriation, Hallock says the noise was “bouncing off the floor-to-ceiling windows and the bar's mirrored and metal-paneled walls.”
It’s hard to believe that these design elements were chosen for a restaurant, but they were. No one was considering the possibility of gentle conversation over a laid back meal, I guess.
Hallock’s sound equivalent: A whirring blender
So, you get the picture. One by one, Hallock narrows down the noise levels of so many L.A. restaurants with a one- or two-word sound analogy: “power drill,” “lawn mower,” “alarm clock one foot away.”
In June, Los Angeles Times Reporter Tiffany Hsu also wrote an article on noise in restaurants, a closer look at the volatile combination of hard surfaces, kitchens, loud music and patrons who like to be heard.
“It's all amplified by cavernous ceilings, spartan walls and bare floors,” Tsu points out about one particularly noisy restaurant. In fact, she and Hallock performed noise reviews on a few of the same restaurants, and both came to similar conclusions: noise makes dining unpleasant.
Noise also makes for unhealthy working conditions for staff.
Yelp, which publishes user reviews and recommendations of top restaurants now includes noise levels in its reviews. And Yelp is not alone, as the practice of including noise ratings in restaurant reviews is catching on quickly.
Zagat, the international restaurant review guide, lists noise as the second highest source of complaints among restaurant goers, with lousy service being number one. The increased awareness of noise pollution and noise in hard surface venues like restaurants is the cause for some changes in restaurant acoustical design. Newer noise absorption and noise deadening materials are far more effective than old solutions involving curtains and popcorn ceilings (ugh!) And restaurant owners are taking heed and installing new soundproofing products that actually work without drastically altering the design aesthetic.
One restaurant owner in Downtown Los Angeles installed sound abatement material throughout his restaurant, and he said the restaurant’s noise levels went from “unbearable” to "It has worked wonders."
The majority of customers, Hsu points out, want peace and quiet when they eat out, especially older customers and professionals.
And although many younger people told Hsu that they enjoy noisy, busy restaurants, the consensus is that most of the younger diners would be happy with quieter eatery options too.
The problem with restaurant noise is almost always anchored in the interior design. Cavernous hard spaces do not make for gentle dining experiences. Thankfully, noise absorbing and soundproofing solutions exist today that work to alleviate the sound without changing the design aesthetic.
An Australian couple could have saved themselves a lot of money and neighborly discord had they looked into installing noise abatement material in their Adelaide home before moving in. Instead, they’ve been hauled off to jail and face fines of $4,000, a figure that will most likely increase with court costs. The relentless noisemaking of Colin MacKenzie, 45 and Jessie Angel, 34 has left the pair demonized by their traumatized neighbors, and a local newspaper poll received almost 10,000 votes from Australian readers who agreed with the police decision to arrest the noisy pair.
They weren’t playing their stereo too loud, and they weren’t fighting. They just happen to be a particularly demonstrative and vocal pair of lovebirds who, according to Colin, spend up to seven hours a day showing each other their love.
But their neighbors aren't feeling the love, and have been complaining to police about the high decibel sounds that keep them awake all night, and shocked, embarassed, and slightly grossed out all day.
Colin is quick to blame his partner, despite the fact that both stand accused of “screaming, loud moaning, swearing and raising their voices.”
“It is mostly Jessie," he told a Perth reporter. "Our average (shenanigans) goes anywhere from four, six, seven hours, basically five nights a week.”
"That's pretty much why I am asleep at six o'clock in the afternoon,” Colin continued. “I will probably die of a heart attack, she is almost killing me as it is."
Jessie, Colin’s soul mate and partner in environmental crime, apparently had a rare burst of silence upon hearing Colin's concern for his heart.
Although studies show that repeated exposure to loud noise can cause heart attacks, roadway traffic and industrial noise are largely the noise sources researchers blame.
However, Colin insists he is not repentant about their behavior, even though police were called to their home 20 times between April and August for excessive noise complaints. In fact, the noise coming from the couple’s love nest repeatedly exceeded EPA noise standards, making them the first to be charged with offences under the Environmental Protection Act as a direct result of noisy love making.
Jessie is the one who has been formally charged by the EPA for breaching the community’s peace and quiet.
After paying 20 visits to the home in just four months, the last few visits - on a recent Sunday night and twice the following Tuesday - resulted in the couple being charged with disturbing the public peace and hindering an environmental protection officer.
"We exceeded the noise pollution (limits) to the point we were arrested and taken out of our own house and told we couldn't have sex," a stunned Jessie told the Perth reporter. And as they began their journey through noise pollution regulation hell, the story made national and international news.
Here's the sequence of events that led to their arrest:
When police were called out on Sunday night at 7:30, Jessie, (deemed by police to be the loudest of the two) was issued an official emergency Environment Protection Order by police:
Apparently Jessie didn’t take it seriously because police were back on Tuesday morning on a new noise complaint. The two were fined $315 for breaching Sunday’s order and given another warning to be quiet. Stunningly, police were called back at 3:30 Tuesday afternoon and the couple, who had by now worn themselves out and fallen asleep, had to be woken up by police to arrest them.
Both were formally charged with breaching the peace, made bail, and went home with orders to appear in Adelaide Magistrates Court next month.
Both Jessie and Colin wonder why their neighbors didn’t simply knock on their door and complain to them personally instead of calling the police. It is not uncommon for people to be hesitant about complaining directly to their noisy neighbors, for fear of an unfriendly reaction or in this case, fear of never catching the couple at the, er, right time. Still the couple feels the complaints were malicious, and wonder if a neighbor or police actually measured the decibel levels of their vocalizations with a decibel meter.
The local police chief said that they don’t like being the killjoys in this situation, and they do believe that people have the right to privacy within their own home. But when their actions have an impact on others, police have no option but to step in.
"In the past, police have been called to this property and warnings were issued,” the police chief said. “On this occasion police had been called earlier in the day, so when they were called back they took steps to ensure neighbors got a good night's sleep."
Noise-related sleep deprivation is a growing problem worldwide, and studies have linked it with long term health problems. However, studies of people suffering from noise-related sleep problems and secondary health issues caused at least in part by sleep deprivation have no known cases of sleep impairment caused by amorous neighbors.
One of Colin and Jessie’s neighbors who was woken early Tuesday when he said he “heard screams.” described the disturbance:
"It was quite loud and they sounded very obscene," he said.
No one asked Colin, Jessie, or the neighbors if anyone had looked into noise reduction solutions that could alleviate a lot trouble for all involved.
We’ll keep you posted on any follow-up.