Loud, sharp or constant noise in the workplace, home or leisure areas can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance and aggression, sleep disturbance, and a lowering of learning capability which can be measured in school results.
Changes in the immune system and birth defects have even been attributed to exposure to noise but evidence is limited as the difficulties of mounting a control experiment without permanently damaging the participants is obvious.
Although some presbycusis (the type of hearing loss that gradually occurs in most individuals as they grow older) in many developed nations the cumulative impact of noise is sufficient to impair the hearing of a large fraction of the population over the course of a lifetime. Current generations are choosing loud music over their ability to hear in the future.
The unit used to measure environmental sound intensity is the ‘decibel’ (dBA).
Zero decibels is the softest sound the healthy human ear is able to hear. The level of loudness heard doubles every 10 decibels. Continued exposure to noise above 85 dBA eventually harms hearing. The louder the sound, the faster hearing will be affected.
The results are tinnitus, hypertension, vasoconstriction and other cardiovascular impacts plus stress, increase workplace accident rates, and stimulate aggression and other anti-social behaviors. A man in our town was actually shot over his complaint about the next-door neighbour’s noise level! Apart from loud music, the world now suffers from an overload of vehicle and aeroplane noise and industrial noise of factory machinery etc..
Loud sounds will actually damage the principal fluid-filled structure of the inner ear – the cochlear – through increased pressure to the area. The noise can be sharp and sudden or an ongoing level too high for this fine mechanism to withstand. A very loud sound in a particular frequency range can damage the cochlea’s hair cells that respond to that range thereby reducing the ear’s ability to hear those frequencies in the future. Damage cannot be reversed.
There is some evidence that differing populations react in different ways to noise, something to do with the local atmosphere. We are living in Mexico presently and I must say that this is the noisiest place I have ever been. The people love their fireworks, loud doof-doof speakers in their cars, cantinas with various styles of music all at once, live bands, screaming for fun and singing. Mostly at night. But I do notice that the locals in our street sleep late in the morning, the kids are a bit aimless and dozy and the school retention rate is abysmal.
Damage to the middle ear will eventually affect balance as well. According to some people, normal traffic noise is enough to raise blood pressure. And there is a raft of other illnesses, even ulcers attributed to noise. But maybe it is just that flow of bile when you are lying awake thinking evil thoughts about your noisy neighbours!!
‘Over 1.8 million people claim noisy neighbours have made their life a misery and they cannot enjoy their own homes. The impact of noise on health is potentially a significant problem across the UK given over 17.5 million Britons (38%) have been disturbed by the inhabitants of neighbouring properties in the last two years. For almost one in ten (7%) Britons this is a regular occurrence.’ (Wikipedia).
Birds and animals will flee from noise. When they urbanise, there is some adaptation but not enough to keep a healthy population.
‘Children from noisy residences often possess a heart rate that is significantly higher (by 2 beats/min on average) than in children from quieter residences.’ A study by Cornell University 1993.
There are 28 million diagnosed hearing impaired people in the USA. Whew! No wonder they are avoiding health cover!
Too often, people CHOOSE to blast themselves with noise. For instance, most ‘networking events’ have music that precludes any conversation and that is something really illogical. Ear damage from iPods also are a future problem looming for health networks.
So what can we do about it.
- Insulate your house for noise and double glaze (the latter not much comfort if you are a fresh-air fiend and sleep with windows open).
- Plant a buffer of leafy, thick trees. Roadways should have linear forests to absorb carbon dioxide and noise anyway.
- Politely explain to the source of the noise how badly this is affecting you. (To some extent this worked for us. The cantina over the back fence is not so bad after midnight these days.)
- Keep your own noise down. For the occasional party, warn your neighbours.
- Lobby electronic companies to stop releasing louder and louder equipment.
- Check your appliances (such as the fridge) for an annoying hum. This can sound bad in the next apartment.
- Consider moving!
- Lobby governments to employ more people at the same time to finish road works and capital projects faster to minimize ongoing hum of building noise.
- Lobby for zoning for noise. Residential areas should not be subject to industrial noise.
- Educate your kids about the effects long term of high volume.
- Get your ears checked. Take advantage of that free service but don’t feel obliged to buy their hearing aids. Shop around!
- Pay attention to warning signs of impending deafness: tinnitus, difficulty of understanding what people are saying, muffled sounds after you leave a noisy room, inability to hear in a crowd.
- Take ear plugs to concerts and clubs or anywhere you know it will be noisy.
Hearing loss is a big national expense in Australia as well as other nations. Much is self-induced. Just remember that if you are listening to loud music and have animals near you (eg. Dogs), the pain for them is considerable as they have acute hearing. So stop being cruel and turn the volume down NOW!