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Environmental Noise May Cause Health Issues

Most people are not aware of the excessive noise in their daily lives. Noise comes from traffic sounds, trains, airplanes, roadwork, construction sites, even noise from people near you talking and listening to music, etc. Your brain is constantly processing all the sound, deciding what it wants to focus on and what is to be ignored. Even when you sleep, your ears are working, picking up and filtering the sound to different parts of the brain. This constant stimulus causes mental fatigue and eventually can become physical stress. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise pollution is on the increase, while other forms of pollution are decreasing.

Work Related Noise Exposure

Noise may be in your work environment. It can be in the form of equipment running near you, people talking on the phone, music overhead, traffic sounds outside your window. If you work outside you may be exposed to power tools, pneumatic tools, engine noise and specific noise to your job description. The loudness of the noise you hear being discussed in this article is not loud enough to cause hearing loss but rather it causes a form of stress build-up in your body.

Noise Off the Job

Our environment is constantly filled with noise. It is a chore to find a space that is truly quiet. Our electrical appliances at home have a constant hum or beep to get your attention. The sound of someone in another room in the house may intrude with the activity in which you are engaged. Most social events have background music, which causes people to talk over it to be heard. When everyone is talking louder over each other, the intensity of the sound grows.

Health Conditions Related to Environmental Noise

The WHO data was collected over a 10-year time span. The report, titled “Burden of disease from environmental noise,” was released in 2011. Findings included an increase in cardiovascular disease, sleep disturbance, tinnitus and cognitive impairment in children, communication difficulty and basic annoyance from environmental noise. This data did not even take into consideration work-related noise, just noise found in most basic living environments for large numbers of people.

The first ranked adverse effect on health comes from air pollution; the second is noise pollution. While most of us understand how air pollution affects quality of life for the public, most of us do not think of noise pollution as a health threat.

Continual noise sets off the body’s acute stress response, which may raise blood pressure and heart rate and can potentially create a state of hyperarousal. Another study measured the brain activity of people as they slept while in a hospital. The sounds heard were people talking, phones ringing, doors closing, machinery, toilets flushing, outside traffic and other intermittent sounds. Researchers found the brain constantly monitoring the environmental sounds, forcing relentless activity instead of the brain shifting into a state of rest. There is evidence that unwanted noise provokes endocrine and metabolic dysfunction, which may initiate a large number of physical issues.

During sleep, a noise that is constant and soft is less disturbing than a noise that is impulsive or a sound that is intermittent. The change in sound activates the brain to take note and see if there is danger nearby.

Noise and Mental Heath

Noise that is not considered a physical threat or hazardous to our hearing ability can make us tense or even angry. Consider how irritating the simple dripping of a faucet can be in the middle of the night. How about the dog next door who engages in recreational barking? Many studies around the world are pointing to an increase in violent behavior because of noise disputes.

How to Reduce Noise Pollution

There are many ways to reduce exposure to unwanted sound. Close windows in the room in which you are sitting. You can wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, improve the insulation in your home and install wall-to-wall carpeting to reduce reverberation of sound. Purchase furniture that is made of cloth rather than leather, which bounces sound around. A slatted fence will bounce sound away from your home. Create a dedicated quiet space in your home to use when overwhelmed with sound. In the office, you can place insulated wall partitions around noisy equipment or around your desk area. Bring up the noise topic during a meeting and see if others are bothered. Then, work as a team to reduce exposure to unwanted noise. FBN

By Karon Lynn, Au.D.

Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the website at TrinityHearing.net. Karon Lynn is a doctor of audiology with 30 years of experience working with hearing impaired individuals. Dr. Lynn may be reached at 928-522-0500 or at audio@trinityhearing.net.

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