We are constantly absorbing and processing noise – from alarm clocks, to traffic, and construction sites. Everyday noises can be annoying but they can also be bad for your health. Increasing evidence shows that noise can take a toll on health in a variety of ways. Noise exposure can contribute to the development of health conditions including hearing loss and high blood pressure. It is important to practice safety measures to mitigate the potential harm of noise exposure.
Impact of Noise on Health
We are exposed to a significant amount of noise in our daily life. This includes:
- the expansion of cities which means more construction
- social settings like restaurants, bars, parties, concerts etc.
- environmental noise: traffic, planes, car alarms
- using electronic devices, listening to music or podcasts etc.
There is growing evidence that shows that noise can increase health risks. Research shows that there are numerous health issues connected to noise exposure. This includes sleep issues, heart disease, high blood pressure, increased stress levels, and metabolic issues.
Exposure to noise can also cause hearing loss – a chronic health condition that reduces one’s capacity to hear and process sound. The World Health Organization estimates that over 1 billion people globally are at increased risk of developing hearing loss due to high levels of noise.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
One time or consistent exposure to noise can cause hearing loss. Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells – there are thousands in each ear – play an integral role in how we hear, process, and understand speech as well as sound. They convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals which get sent to the brain. The brain is then able to further process and assign meaning to these signals which is what allows us to understand what we hear. Excessive noise can cause these hair cells to become desensitized and/or die, preventing them from performing their essential function.
Damaged hair cells result in the brain receiving less auditory information, making it challenging to hear and process sound. Unlike other types of cells we have, hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. Humans are actually born with all the sensory cells we’ll ever have in the cochlea. There are no medical treatments or interventions that can restore or replenish these cells which means that any damage they experience is permanent. This results in chronic hearing loss, one of the most prevalent health issues people experience today. Over 48 million people have hearing loss, a number that is expected to grow. Noise induced hearing loss not only impacts hearing but it can take a toll on various facets of life. Hearing loss strains communication, affects relationships, leads to social withdrawal, impacts work performance, and increases health risks. Untreated hearing loss can increase the risk of cognitive decline, depressive symptoms, and accidental injuries. This highlights the importance of protecting your hearing health from the potential effects of noise exposure.
Tips to Protect Your Hearing Health
Noise induced hearing loss is completely preventable. There are numerous ways you can protect your health from noise exposure. A few tips include the following:
- Wear protective gear: this includes headphones, earbuds, earmuffs etc. which offers a protective barrier for the ears. This reduces the amount of loud noise you absorb, protecting your hearing health from noise exposure. Investing in noise cancellation headphones is another great way to protect your ears while still being able to listen to audio safely.
- Reduce noise exposure: there are numerous ways you can reduce your exposure to noise. In addition to wearing protective gear you can also: maintain lower volume settings while watching TV and on your electronic devices, avoiding places like restaurants and bars during peak hours, taking listening breaks throughout the day where you are in a quieter environment and not absorbing lots of noise, and taking alternate routes to avoid traffic and construction sites.
- Have hearing tested: prioritizing your hearing health by having your hearing tested regularly is another great way to protect your health. Hearing tests measure your hearing abilities in both ears which identifies any hearing loss. This tool is an effective way to track your hearing health and intervene early if you experience any changes.