Is a Rise in Noise Pollution Contributing to a Public Health Crisis?


Man holding his ear because of noise pollution.

Living or working in an urban area means you are regularly experiencing noise from traffic, trains, airplanes, manufacturing, loud music, road construction, and new building projects. We all try to tune out the noise and unpleasant sounds the best we can, but what are the long-term effects of this exposure over extended periods of time? And what are the best methods to protect your hearing from harmful sounds and noise?

It’s important to remember that good hearing is essential to healthy living. To be clear, all those unwanted sounds and noise are definitely having a negative effect on your hearing and overall health. We all have our limits when it comes to how much noise we can tolerate, but when we hear noise beyond our physical limits, it begins to interfere with our capacity to hear clearly.

Everyday Noises Can Cause Hearing Loss Over Time

Prolonged exposure to noise levels of more than 85 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss. Noise pollution creates discomfort, interferes with your ability to concentrate, disrupts your normal sleeping patterns and generally lowers your quality of life. Excessive noise can also cause emotional or behavioral stress and increases the probability of high blood pressure and heart failure. For women, being exposed to noise pollution and the accompanying stress during pregnancy can lead to giving birth to babies with lower-than-average body weight.

Noise pollution can also cause an irregular heartbeat, constricted blood vessels and dilated pupils. Prolonged exposure to noise may cause damage to the liver, brain, and heart. Studies have shown that people who live or work in loud environments often have difficulty sleeping, which can lead to physical, cognitive and emotional problems that leave them too distracted to focus on the complex tasks they need to complete each day.

Protect Your Hearing From Noise Pollution

So what should you do to protect your hearing and your health? Getting a new job in a quiet part of town or moving to a new house farther away from the city probably aren’t realistic options for most people. But there are steps you can take to alleviate unwanted noise in your home or workplace.

Common methods to reduce noise pollution include:

  • Close the windows in your home.
  • Turn down the volume on the TV, radio or computer tablet, or simply turn off your electronic devices.
  • Wear earplugs.
  • Have a dedicated quiet space in your home or place of work.
  • Wear noise-canceling headphones.
  • Have your home and/or office soundproofed.
  • Install wall-to-wall carpeting in your home and/or office.
  • Install sound-absorbing acoustic wall panels in your home.
  • Install a fence around your home.
  • Plant trees in your yard.

You should try to limit your exposure to noise at 55 decibels during the day and 30 decibels at night. To accurately measure the loudness of sounds you are regularly exposed to, you can purchase a sound level meter for between $20 and $50, or download an app to your smartphone.

If you’re interested in working to reduce noise pollution in your community and across the country, there are many resources for you to explore. The nonprofit organization, Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, in Montpelier, Vermont, collects and distributes information to raise awareness about the dangers of noise pollution. The organization also assists activists working against noise pollution and helps strengthen laws that govern local, state and national noise control efforts.

In New York City, one of the loudest cities on earth, New York University (NYU) has launched the Sounds of New York City (SONYC) research project to understand and address the problem of noise pollution in New York and other large cities. Because nine out of 10 adults in New York are regularly being exposed to excessive noise levels, NYU created the program to address what the university identified as an integral quality of life issue for urban residents throughout the United States. Their website has information and resources to keep the public informed about the project’s findings.

If you think you’re suffering from hearing loss, you should contact a hearing professional in your area immediately. New studies indicate that significant hearing loss can occur at sound levels previously thought to be safe and after shorter-than-expected periods of exposure. So, it’s more important than ever to protect your hearing and get regularly tested. Catching hearing loss early can limit the damage it does to your health.

Want more information?

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