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Environmental Noise Pollution Threatens Hearing and Health

When you hear the word nausea you probably think of that sick queasy feeling induced by motion sickness or other causes. The last thing that jumps to mind is that nausea can actually mean loud, jarring sounds that are so pervasive in our environment.

In fact, the word noise derives from the Latin nausea, and for a very good reason: it makes us sick. Various studies have proven that noise pollution not only negatively impacts our physical health, but also affects our emotional well-being and reduces our quality of life.

Research shows that the omnipresent noise from road traffic, airplanes, construction equipment, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, vacuum cleaners, and other sources can cause high blood pressure, fatigue, sleeplessness, digestive problems, increased anxiety, and, of course, hearing loss.

Excessive Noise is Toxic to Our Health

The World Health Organization (WHO), a global health agency based in Geneva, Switzerland, suggests that hundreds of thousands of people around the world may be getting sick or even dying prematurely due to the effects of chronic noise exposure.

The WHO evidence shows that long-term exposure to traffic noise may account for 3 percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease in Europe, a condition characterized by reduced blood supply to the heart and the most common cause of death in most western countries. Since heart disease claims about 7 million victims globally each year, the noise exposure alone could account for some 210,000 totally preventable deaths.

And there is also an abundance of scientific evidence that noise pollution prevents millions of us from getting a good nights sleep. A recent German study found that in the European Union countries alone, 20 percent of the population (approximately 80 million people), including children, suffer from stress and sleep disorders that have a considerable negative effect on health.



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Chronic noise, such as traffic, shown to increase health issues.

The Impact on Hearing

Of course, the organ that suffers the most from excessive noise is the ear. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), an estimated 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels on a regular basis, an increase of 10 million from just a few years ago. On average, our parents and grandparents developed noise-related hearing loss between the ages of 40 and 50. But today, ASHA says, increased noise levels cause many young people to experience diminished hearing as early as their teens and 20s. Just think: because of the environmental noise the young generation of Americans is growing up with reduced hearing.

How does this happen? Our ears hear the sound waves and transmit them through a delicately balanced system to the brain. In the inner ear the cochlea is filled with fluid and lined with thousands of tiny hair cells. These cells signal the auditory nerve to send electrical impulses to the brain, which, in turn, interprets these impulses as sound. But when we are exposed to loud or chronic noise, the hair cells are damaged and the transmission of sound is permanently disabled.

Hazardous Noise Levels

So what exactly is a dangerous noise level? Hearing health specialists say that sounds louder than 85 decibels (dB) are potentially hazardous.

Some of the everyday sounds that can permanently harm your ears in case of a prolonged exposure are: lawnmowers, truck traffic, snowmobiles, chain saws, jackhammers, rock music, band practice, firearms, firecrackers, air raid sirens, and jet engines. All of these sounds are louder than 85 dB, and some of them are as loud as 140 dB.

How do you know that you are exposed to excessive, and possibly even toxic noise levels? Here are some guidelines that should sound an alarm loud enough for you to hear it and take prompt precautionary measures:

  • You cant hear someone three feet away.
     
  • You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.
     
  • You hear a ringing or buzzing in your ears immediately after exposure to a noise
     
  • You have difficulty understanding speech; you can hear people talking but you cant understand them.
     
  • You must raise your voice to be heard by a person with normal hearing.
     
  • Speech sounds muffled or dull.

If any of these warning signs are familiar, you might already have suffered damage. Since the hearing nerves, once destroyed, dont regenerate, the only way to prevent and avoid permanent hearing loss is to act before it occurs.

Noises Off

You know the saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While we cant eliminate all the hazardous noises from our environment, we can be conscious and proactive in reducing our risks of hearing loss.

Here are some simple and easy steps to ensure healthy hearing:

  • Eliminate all sources of unwanted noise that are within your power.
     
  • Keep television, stereo and radio at a low or moderate volume.
     
  • Limit the amount of time you are exposed to loud noises.
     
  • Use household and yard appliances that operate quietly.
     
  • Protect your hearing with devices such as earplugs when operating loud machinery or spending time in a noisy environment.

Remember: the best way to avoid permanent hearing damage is to listen to your common sense.

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