It’s no secret that noise pollution can be harmful to your health, and the World Health Organization (WHO) wants you to know the potential consequences of this invisible pollutant.
Folks who live in urban areas are exposed to dangerously high levels of noise pollution every day, which translates to anything above 55 decibels – roughly the sound equivalant of ordinary conversational speech. Industrial and manufacturing plants, freeway, highways, and air traffic noise, busy restaurants and bars, overcrowded public spaces - all of these and more can add up to noise pollution levels that are making people sick. Even if you don’t live in the bustling city, you still have a significant chance of suffering the ill effects of noise pollution. Simply attending noisy events, such as indoor basketball games and other sporting events, live concerts, an aerobics class at the gym can expose you to high noise levels that contribute to the development of tinnitus, hearing loss, and other health problems associated with noise pollution.
So what does WHO consider to be the top health issues directly related to noise?
1. Tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss are the most common consequences of exposure to noise for long periods of time. Researchers say that exposure to 85 decibels for eight hours or longer can cause serious hearing damage. In case you’re wondering, 85 decibels sounds like a large truck rambling down the highway. Live rock concerts can emit more than 100 decibels continuously, which is why your ears tingle when you leave. When you develop noise-induced tinnitus, that tingle becomes a constant ringing in your ears that doesn’t go away.
2. Diminished communication skills were found to be the result of prolonged noise exposure. Noise can lessen our ability to communicate as effectively as we once could. The problem can be so severe, victims of this side-effect of exposure to noise lose the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. They can be more easily prone to confusion, stress, faltering speech, indecision and impatience. However, technology is stepping in with some answers. If your hearing is seriously diminished, Apple has an app for that.
3. Sleep disorders can be the result of exposure to high noise levels, which can lead to chronic insomnia, a medical condition that can cause emotional strain, despondency, a sense of dejection, aggressiveness, and antisocial behavior. When your body’s natural sleep cycle is interfered with, your health is put at risk. When the problem is chronic, it can lead to serious mental and physical illnesses, and even put you at a heightened risk of heart attack.
4. Heart arrhythmia can result from exposure to excess noise, since noise pollution is known to cause sleep disorders, stress, and worsen cardiovascular disease. Elevated heart rates, hypertension, elevated heart rate, and inappropriate triggers of the flight-or-fight response are all common repercussions of exposure to excess noise.
5. Psychiatric disorders, although not caused by exposure to noise, are known to be exacerbated by it. People already suffering from stress and anxiety disorders can experience exaggerated symptoms. When the noise is loud and continuous, it can intensify aggressiveness, mood swings, phobias, and antisocial behavior in the mentally ill. Most alarming is the erosion of well-being that noise pollution can have on unstable or medically weakened children and elderly people, who have a heightened inability to cope with loud sounds.
6. Diminished or lost productivity is an expensive and life altering side effect of noise pollution, which is known to reduce cognitive function. In school children, noise pollution has been proven to interfere with learning, reading skills, information retention and overall academic development and performance. In adults, it negatively affects problem-solving skills, socio-emotional development, work performance and ambition. Businesses lose billions of dollars annually as a result of noise-related lost productivity.
7 Negative Emotions: Many clinical studies have shown that low frequency noise produces seriously negative emotions in people, including fatigue, despair, aggression, unhappiness, anxiety and distraction. Even though these behavioral changes are most often subtle, they influence the daily behaviors and activities of sufferers and manifest in some unsocial behaviors such as door slamming, being accident prone, and even avoiding neighbors or friends.
You may even know people who exhibit some of the behaviors associated with noise-induced illness, and maybe you identify a few of them in yourself. Become more aware of your surroundings and make a note of any noise exposure you think may be affecting your mood or your health. Wherever possible, make the changes necessary to eliminate excess noise from your environment.
Sound, or more specifically, noise, is an invisible pollutant that can harm our ears, our hearing, and our health.
Think back to the last time you went to a rock concert or a particularly high volume club; when you left, did you pay much attention to the peculiar ringing in your ears as you headed back to your car, maybe even after you returned home? The sound around you were muffled for a short while, replaced with a buzzing inside your head, almost as if your ears were screaming.
In a way, they were.
IISo, what do we need to know about protecting out ears from IIloud noise, and what do we do when the ringing never stops?
IINoise pollution is encroaching on the everyday lives of all of IIus, and the more we understand about how noise effects our ears, our hearing, and our health and well being, the more IIlikely we are to take action to make changes.
Hair cells within the inner ear.
Noise levels louder than a shouting match can damage the hair cells of the inner ear. These delicate hair cells Hair cells within the inner ear contain act as the "gatekeepers of our hearing. When sound waves hit them, they convert those vibrations into electrical currents that the auditory nerves carry to the brain. Without hair cells, there is nothing for the sound to bounce off - compare it to trying to make your voice echo in the desert.
Hair cells reside in the inner ear inside the shell-shaped cochlea. Bundles of hair-like extensions, called stereocilia, rest on top of them. When sound waves travel through the ears and reach the hair cells, the vibrations deflect off the stereocilia, causing them to move according to the force and pitch of the vibration. For instance a soft piano sonata would produce gentle movement in the stereocilia, while heavy metal would generate faster, sharper motion. This motion triggers an electrochemical current that sends the information from the sound waves through the auditory nerves to the brain.
When you hear exceptionally loud noises, your stereocilia actually become damaged and mistakenly keep sending sound information to the auditory nerve cells. After spending time at a rock concert, a loud club, an active race track, an air show, an industrial plant with unmitigated chillers or machinery, or even in heavy traffic, the ringing happens because the tips of some of your stereocilia actually have broken off. You hear the false currents in the ringing in your head, called tinnitus. However, since you can grow these small tips back in about 24 hours, the ringing improves and goes away over time.
There are two ways hearing can be damaged by loud noises, according to Manfred Auer of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division. Noise can stress the stereocilia bundle so much that the tip links break, which Auer refers to as the rock-concert effect, where hearing loss is temporary and the stereocilia tips grow back.
However, loud noises can also shear off whole bundles of stereocilia. In mammals these can't regenerate - the loss is permanent.
Repeated exposure to loud noises can kill the hair cells entirely. So what? We have 16,000 of them in each cochlea, but that number pales in comparison to the eye's 100 million photoreceptors, which do to light what hair cells do to sound. In addition, once those hair cells die, we cannot growth them back. This is why protecting your ears is essential.
How loud is too loud? Sound is measured in units called decibels. Decibels measure the power of sound, rather than the amount. Safe sound levels are considered below 85 decibels. Here's another rule of thumb: If you have to shout to hear someone an arm's length away, the sound is probably above that safety threshold.
Repeatedly crossing that 85-decibel threshold can have unpleasant consequences. While the ringing in your ears from a loud noise is usually brief, for more than 12 million Americans, it never stops, according to the American Tinnitus Association. Chronic tinnitus can be a symptom of infections, high blood pressure, even compacted earwax, but it is commonly associated with noise-related hearing loss.
There are a few simple ways to safeguard your hearing. First, be aware of the noise levels around you. If you know you're going to be in a loud environment, wear earplugs to protect your ears. Also, notice how close you are to the source of loud noises and how long you're exposed to them. And pay attention to the ringing in your ears. Our bodies are sometimes more fragile than we think.
Rock legend Pete Townshend of "The Who" has severe hearing damage resulting partly from the band's live gigs, but mainly from the deafening volume in which he used to listen to playbacks over the studio "cans." Completely deaf in one ear, Townshend's hearing damage manifested itself as tinnitus, a condition Townshend calls painful and frustrating.
Hearing loss due to environmental noise is a serious health hazard today, and it is on the rise. Exposure to loud noise for extended periods of time can lead to irreversible hearing loss and other health problems.
Of course there is no one “cure” for noise pollution, but there are preventative measures that can be taken.
Noise induced hearing loss can be generated from industrial noise as well as exposure to any amplified sounds, such as at concerts and nightclubs. Usually, hearing loss experienced from attending an extremely loud event is only temporary and will correct itself in time. However, musicians who entertain regularly in these environments often suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss over the course of their careers. Individuals who listen to music at extremely high volumes routinely are also vulnerable to permanent hearing loss.
Industrial sectors like airline, highway and light rail train systems, mining operations, construction, manufacturing and engineering industries contribute to the most serious levels of industrial noise pollution. In fact, according to OSHA officials, every year, approximately 30 million people in the United States are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise.
Fortunately, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss can be reduced or eliminated through the successful application of acoustical controls and hearing conservation programs. Employers today must invest in hearing protection measures that correspond to the type of noise and decibel levels to which their employees are subjected.
Generally, there are three levels of noise hazards: Impact noise (as in an explosion or gunshots); Intermittent noise (such as noise generated from heavy vehicle traffic), and continuous noise (machinery that runs constantly, such as generators, industrial pumps, lawn equipment, jackhammers, conveyors, residential heat pumps, etc.).
Businesses with noise issues serious enough to effect employees, visitors, neighbors or pedestrians look for noise reduction solutions that are most adaptable to their particular noise source and are capable of dramatically reducing noise and the health risks that go with it. Businesses with machinery so loud that ordinary conversation is impossible risk additional hazards when employees and visitors cannot communicate adequately.
In some industries such as mining and construction, specially designed ear protectors, or ear muffs offer protection from hearing loss in extreme noise surroundings, and in some instances enable communication by utilizing Bluetooth technology. In other settings, such as airport terminals, hospitals, jails and prisons, restaurants and others that experience high decibel ambient noise levels, sound barriers and sound reduction materials offer more practical solutions to combatting the health risks of noise pollution.
People need to become proactive about protecting their hearing throughout their lifetime. Today, Townshend promotes taking protective measures, including wearing earplugs, to reduce loud music to a level that does not damage the ear.
But it's not loud music alone that is damaging American's hearing. Environmental noise pollution is becoming a plague; individuals need to become proactive when it comes to protecting themselves from all types of damaging noise whenever possible.
Loud noise can have serious consequences to an individual’s health and well being. Elevated workplace or other noise can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, stress-releated illnesses, premature ejaculation, sleep disturbance, decreased sexual performance and even death. Some experts suggest that changes in the immune system and birth defects have been attributed to noise exposure, although evidence is limited. Although some hearing loss may occur naturally with age, in many developed nations the cumulative impact of noise is sufficient to impair the hearing of a large portion of the population over the course of a lifetime. Exposure to loud noise has also been known to induce tinnitus, hypertension, vasoconstriction and other cardiovascular impacts. Beyond these effects, elevated noise levels can create stress, increase workplace accident rates, and stimulate aggression and other anti-social behaviors. The most significant culprits are vehicle and aircraft noise, prolonged exposure to loud music, and industrial noise.
The social costs of traffic noise in European countries and the U.S. is in the billions of dollars per year, with traffic noise alone is harming the health of one in every three people in some high-traffic communities. One in five individuals is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health.
The location of site and noise generators near sites which are noisy include major roads, railroads, industrial plants, etc. Traffic maps and land use maps from highway departments, planning agencies, railroads, and airport authorities may document such noise generators.
Noise is also a detriment to animal habitats and ecosystems.
Acoustiblok’s all weather sound panels and other noise abatement products are helping industries and individuals combat noise-related problems every day. Acoustiblok’s sound absorption capability is more effective than a 12-inch poured concrete barrier.