What is noise pollution?
A screaming child, TV blaring in the living room, a vacuum cleaner, loud music coming from your teen's bedroom: a busy home can be a source of constant noise. Once you step outside, there's even more noise pollution. On an average day, you may hear noise pollution in your area that includes a neighbor's lawn mower, honking cars, barking dogs, sirens, maybe even ear-shattering sounds of a construction or a work site—a saw, a drill, a jackhammer.
Welcome to the modern–and very noisy–world. Unless you live in a quiet rural area, you are no stranger to the phenomenon of environmental noise, commonly called noise pollution.
Secondhand sound is harmful
Noise pollution is often referred to as the "modern unseen plague" for good reason. It may be unseen but certainly not unheard. It disturbs us practically everywhere we go, day and night. And, besides leading to hearing loss, it impacts our physical and mental health, too.
You've heard of secondhand smoke. It's time to think of noise pollution as secondhand sound. It's harmful and nearly unavoidable in most urban areas.
What is noise pollution?
Noise pollution is a state of excessive noise that "seriously harms human health and interferes with people's daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time," according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
How common is noise pollution?
How big of a problem is excess noise? 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. And, of course, many millions more are impacted by noise pollution worldwide, so it is fair to say that environmental noise is a growing global problem.
Sources of noise pollution
This is highly dependent on where you live, your occupation and your hobbies. A mechanic who lives next to a busy intersection and takes the subway frequently will encounter a lot more noise pollution than, say, an office worker who lives in the suburbs and drives alone most days. But in general, these are the top sources of noise pollution:
Health effects of noise pollution
Ever get irritated when hearing a car alarm going off for no reason? What about a barking dog? An ambulance siren? It's not unusual for people in big cities to hear all of these sounds at once, plus other sounds of the city. It's a stressful experience, and chronic stress is unhealthy. These noises distract you from whatever you're doing, hurt your hearing, and may keep you up at night, leading to sleep deprivation.
"Chronic environmental noise causes a wide variety of adverse health effects, including sleep disturbance, annoyance, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), cardiovascular disease, endocrine effects, and increased incidence of diabetes" state the authors of a public health report on noise pollution in the U.S.
All of the following are linked to excessive exposure to noise:
Noise pollution advocacy
There is a small but growing awareness of noise pollution and its effects on your health and hearing. Some organizations are dedicated to increasing the safety and silence in our noisy world. For example, Silencity is a New York City-based organization that raises awareness about noise pollution and seeks out restaurants and public spaces where city dwellers can enjoy a quiet, safe respite from the noise. UK-based Pipedown is dedicated to eliminating the annoying canned music we cannot escape when we dine and shop. Noise-free America campaigns for public and political awareness on the harms of noise pollution.
Protecting yourself from noise pollution
These are certainly laudable moves, and more tangible measures like them are needed in all the noisy urban centers. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to protect your hearing and health in general against harmful noise pollution:
To learn more about hearing protection devices and to have your hearing tested, visit a hearing aid clinic near you near you today to get started on the path to healthier hearing.