Sound is an important sense that connects us to the world. It helps us communicate with family, friends, and co-workers while allowing us to navigate the world safely. The sounds of music, or a familiar voice can actually release dopamine helping us to feel joy and reducing depression.
However there can be such a thing and too much of a good thing. Too much sound becomes noise and can have serious negative effects on our physical and mental health, including our hearing.
When noise becomes pollution
Sounds enrich our lives but when they become too loud and constant then they can contribute to what is known as noise pollution. Noise pollution is defined as regular exposure to elevated sound levels that may lead to adverse effects in humans. If you live in an urban environment you may become used to the sounds of street traffic, neighbors playing music and even construction. However these sounds can build up and affect our nervous system and our hearing.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Noise induced hearing loss is one of the most common forms of hearing loss affecting people of all ages. Sound is measured in decibels and any sound fewer than 70 decibels will not cause damage to our hearing no matter how long we listen. However as the decibel levels rise, our hearing can start to be put into jeopardy.
We hear using microscopic hairs in our inner ear called cilia. These cilia pick up sound information and convert it into electrical waves, sent to our brain to be processed. At 85 decibels and over, cilia are at risk for being damaged and can not be re-grown.
Damage to the cilia is called sensorineural hearing loss and is permanent. The unfortunate thing to understand is that it is not just the level of sound that puts our hearing at risk but also the length of exposure. Over years of being exposed to levels of 85 decibels our hearing can sustain substantial damage. This is why living amongst noise pollution for an extended time is a risk to our ears. As the decibel levels rise the time it takes for noise induced hearing loss to occur lessens.
Dangers of Noise Pollution
The effects of living with damaged hearing reaches far past hearing issues. It can affect relationships, mood, mobility and physical health. Aside from permanent hearing loss noise pollution can also cause high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disturbances, and stress. We hear noise even if we are sleeping affecting the quality of our sleep and providing more stress on our nervous system.
Sources of noise pollution
The sources of noise pollution vary depending on where you spend most of your time. If you live in a city then the sounds of the street can be cumulative. However living in the suburbs or even rural areas does not always free you from noise pollution.
Many of the sounds we tend to induce on ourselves. For instance many of us mow our lawns or blow the leave away in the autumn. If it is only you who does this it wouldn’t be a problem but considering that everyone on a block must mow a lawn this can contribute to high levels of noise pollution.
Many times noise pollution comes from inside the house. One person may turn on the television, which inspires another to turn up the radio in another room to tune out the TV. Many times it is the vacuum running or a dishwasher, which can contribute to a dangerously high sound level in the home.
Protect yourself against noise pollution
You can detect decibel levels in a space using apps available on most smart devices. Know the decibel level in your home and take steps to lessen the decibel level if it is past safe listening levels. Avoid running more than one noisy machine at a time. Hang curtains and lay down rugs to absorb sounds from the street.
When you are out on the street make sure to wear ear protection if you suspect an environment is too loud. If you suspect that you are dealing with even a small degree of hearing loss, make an appointment to have your hearing tested. The sooner you deal with hearing damage the less of a chance it can become a serious problem.