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The sounds around us make up our environment. While the wind in the trees and water rolling over stones in the creek may bring us peace, sounds can get loud enough to impact our health. Once it gets to a dangerous level it’s more than just noise—it’s noise pollution!
Understanding Noise Pollution
Our world keeps getting louder and louder, in part because of industrialization and even more recently because of the availability of digital information nearly everywhere we go. However, noise pollution has been a problem for a long time. In fact, by 1972, understanding of the health implication of noise pollution were acknowledged to the extent in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed the Noise Control Act to establish “a national policy to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”
What Is Noise Pollution?
The loudness or volume of sound is measured in decibels (dBA). Any sound below a safe listening threshold can be listened to indefinitely. In fact, sounds can bring us peace or in the case of our favorite song, release endorphins – chemicals which inspire joy in the brain. However, once sounds pass a safe listening threshold, they can induce anxiety, chronic stress, sleep issues and even hypertension. Even worse as sounds progress to even louder levels they can cause permanent hearing damage.
How Loud is Too Loud?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend maintaining environmental noises below 70 dBA over 24-hours. Over this level such as living in a noisy neighborhood, by a factory, airport or highway traffic can contribute to chronic stress and even lead to hypertension and heart attack. As the levels rise sounds can be loud enough to damage the hair cells of the inner ear which are responsible for sending sound information from the ears to the brain. When vibrations become severe for too long, they can cause the cells to shatter, becoming damaged or destroyed and limiting audio information which can reach the brain.
The higher the decibel level the shorter the exposure time. For instance at 85 dBA it takes eight hours for hearing damage to occur. However, for every increase of three decibels, the exposure time is cut in half. At 88 dBA it only takes four hours and by the time sounds reach 95 dBA it damages our hearing and can occur in an hour and last a lifetime!
How Does Noise Pollution Affect My Health?
The impact of hearing loss: Hearing loss has some serious implications to our total health. This includes issues with communication impacting your relationships on a professional and personal level, decreased self-esteem, and chronic depression. In addition, hearing loss can impact cognitive performance and increases the risk of dementia earlier in life.
Noise pollution may also impact cognitive performance in children affecting children’s reading ability, memory, and standardized-testing performance.
Cardiovascular problems: Due to the stress of noise pollution studies have shown higher rates of hypertension and cardiovascular issues leading to heart attack and stroke. Chronic noise exposure triggers the fight-or-flight response of the nervous system, repetitively flooding the system with stress hormones impacting the cardiovascular system and its integrity.
Insomnia: Noise pollution can interrupt sleep causing chronic exhaustion, mood issues, and decreased cognitive performance.
Psychological stress: A study in the Journal of Sound and Vibration found that those in homes exposed to road traffic experienced a reduction in daytime relaxation and psychological well-being.
Protecting Yourself from Noise Pollution
Hearing plugs and headphones can lower decibel levels in acute situations, but if you live in a noisy place, you can’t be expected to wear ear protection all the time. To lower your risk of stress and hearing damage due to living in a noisy place there are some things you can do aside from moving. If you own your home, you may want to invest in planting shrubs and bushes outside your home to absorb sound from the street. You can also invest in ways to absorb sound within your home. Laying down thick carpets throughout your home and hanging heavy curtains at your windows will absorb sound and lower the decibel level within your home.
Scheduling a Hearing Exam
We can do what we can to reduce the decibel levels in our home but if you fear you’ve experienced levels of noise loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage it’s important to act today. Schedule a hearing exam with us now and take action around a potential hearing loss!