Growing Evidence that Noise is Bad for Your Health

Growing Evidence that Noise is Bad for Your Health
Carli Van Harken

Our ears encounter all sorts of sounds everyday. Some of these sounds are pleasing like the birds chirping or the wind blowing through the trees. Other sounds we may find annoying like a jackhammer outside your window every morning at 6am. 

Not only are certain sounds irritating but there is mounting evidence that suggests that noise can have negative consequences for our health. Even your favorite music can actually be bad for you when it is too loud and plays for too long without a break.  This is an instance of “too much of a good thing.” 

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

If you are aware of the negative effects of noise induced hearing loss then you know that when sound reaches a certain decibel level it can start to damage the tiny hair cells in our inner ear, responsible for relaying sound to our brain. As the decibel level rises, these sounds can damage our ears faster. For instance, a loud quick blast like a firework can damage our ears rather quickly leaving us with permanent hearing loss. 

It is important to understand that it is also the low level of noise that can sneak up on us and cause damage over time. For instance that jackhammer outside your window day after day can cause damage even if you shut the windows. If the decibel level you are exposed to is over 85 decibels, then your hearing is at risk.

How can noise affect our health?

Not only is noise dangerous to our ears but has a range of negative effects including stress, sleeplessness, poor concentration and communication difficulties. If the stress from noise is not dealt with it can manifest as serious physical complications like cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment. Ironically some of the negative side effects of hearing loss are similar to the side effects of exposure to irritating and inescapable noise. For instance not being able to hear the people in your life due to hearing loss can lead to stress, anxiety, insomnia and even cognitive impairment due to lack of audio stimulation.

Studies on the impact of noise

A study from the World Health Organization (WHO) titled ‘Burden of disease from environmental noise” was released in 2011 collecting data from multiple surveys and studies on the impact of environmental noise over a 10 year period. The study took into account environmental noise from street traffic, planes, trains and other urban sources such as construction, street music and noise from neighbors. WHO compared the data of people reporting exposure to these different sources of noise pollution with instances of those surveyed who also dealt with cardiovascular disease, insomnia, cognitive impairment in children and high anxiety.

The dangers of noise pollution

When the data was compiled from the various studies it uncovered alarming findings on the health impacts to the general population exposed to noise pollution over time.

The WHO team called this the “disability-adjusted life-years” or DALYs, which are estimated years of healthy life lost to what they called ‘unwanted’ human-induced dissonance’ also known as noise pollution. Approximately one million healthy years of a lifetime are lost annually in Europe due to noise and this does not even take into account exposure to noise at work in industrial settings. WHO ranked traffic noise one of the highest environmental threats to public health second only to air pollution

Dangers of noise as we rest

Even if you do not realize it the sounds around you can affect you negatively. We still hear while we are asleep, processing sounds unconsciously. If you are exposed to the sounds of traffic, and airport or loud neighbors while you sleep it is still affecting your nerves causing stress unaccounted for. When our sleep is not interrupted continual noise activates the body’s acute stress response, which raises blood pressure and heart rate, raising the risk of heart disease and hypertension. Research has shown that people exposed to noise pollution often have higher incidences of headaches, take more sedatives to help them sleep and are more likely to seek psychiatric treatment.

Seeking Solutions

If you live in a noisy environment your hearing and your health are at a high risk. Don’t let hearing loss get the better of you. Contact us to find out what you can do for your hearing and to protect you from damaging noise today.