From the cars on the street to the TV playing in the background and everything in between, noise is pretty much everywhere, and so we learn to tune it out.
Because noise surrounds us every single day, we grew accustomed to not worrying about it unless it’s particularly loud.
As far back as the 1970s, research has been concerned with the adverse health effects that noise pollution can have on our overall well being, which leads us to the question of “how bad can noise pollution actually be?”
What Is Noise Pollution?
To understand the severity of the problem we must first understand what noise pollution actually is. Simply put, noise pollution is any prolonged or extensive exposure to sound that can reduce your quality of life or interfere with it.
But there’s more to it than you might suspect. Noise pollution isn’t just the unavoidable rush-hour traffic or loud music that your neighbor insists on blasting.
To truly understand the impact of noise pollution on your daily life, try going somewhere in nature where no appliances, vehicles, or devices exist and just listen.
The odds are that all you’re going to hear are bugs, birds, a water stream, or any other sounds that inherently exist in nature. Only when you experience this overwhelming silence, will you actually realize how much noise you’re exposed to on a daily basis.
Health Implications of Noise Pollution
The possible side effects of noise pollution vary in severity between physical, mental, and psychological effects. Temporary or permanent noise-induced hearing loss is the most obvious effect of noise pollution, but how loud is too loud?
Researchers have discovered that when it comes to damaging levels of noise, the sound shouldn’t be more than 85 dB, and even at 85 dB, the maximum exposure time recommended is 8 hours.
Aside from the external sources of noise that you can’t personally control, you’ll be surprised to know how loud most of your frequently-used appliances and devices are. A hair dryer produces 94 dB, a lawnmower is typically 90 dB, and headphones turned too loud can reach 100 dB or more.
Keep in mind that after the recommended 8-hour exposure time to 85 dB, hearing damage can occur, but at 91 dB, damage occurs only after about 2 hours of exposure.
Besides hearing damage, it’s been proven that poor sleep is the second most harmful effect of noise pollution. Sleep disturbance, in turn, can add physical and psychological stress on the body, causing mood fluctuations, decreased energy levels, reduced cognitive abilities, and in the long term, even heart diseases.
Noise pollution can trigger a stress reaction in the nervous system that often causes your body to react in a fight-or-flight response. This, in turn, forces your brain to produce excessive amounts of cortisol (the stress hormone). Over time, this constant increase of cortisol levels in the body will flood your system, adding stress to your heart, possibly resulting in cardiovascular disease.
The stress triggered by noise pollution extends to your mental health as well as your physical well-being. Studies show that exposure to road traffic noise at a maximum of 68 dB for extended periods of time can cause annoyance, stress, short temper, and an overall reduction in a person’s psychological well-being and their ability to relax.
With this in mind, you should know that these studies were conducted on subjects exposed to traffic noise while at home. Now, imagine how much worse it can be if you’re actually stuck in traffic.
Additionally, noise pollution has long been linked to a significant reduction in cognitive performance in both adults and children alike. When you are constantly exposed to noise from any source, the less you’ll be able to think, take in new information, or even communicate properly.
What Can You Do About It?
Start with the things that you can control like your home appliances. Take your air compressor, for instance. Most people are convinced that when it comes to air compressors, bigger is always better when in fact, bigger is almost always louder.
Consider swapping out your old, large air compressor for one of the quiet air compressors available on the market. Air compressors generally produce up to 100 dB, but the smaller ones range between 50 and 80 dB. Some portable units even range between 50 and 60 dB.
Another thing you can do to reduce the noise pollution in your home environment is to take advantage of the fact that sound waves can be absorbed. There are many ways that you can soundproof your home, starting with your flooring.
If you have hardwood floors, consider installing carpets; the thicker the carpet, the better. For a more convenient, affordable solution, place a few rugs in the rooms where a lot of noise is typically generated such as your laundry room and your living room.
As for the external noise, curtains — even thin ones — will help absorb the street sounds.
Lastly, figure out which sounds in your environment are too loud and turn down their volume to a safer decibel level. If you’re not sure how loud is too loud, there are several decibel metering apps that can provide you with accurate noise measurement.
It might be better for your peace of mind to think that noise pollution isn’t a serious concern; after all, it’s just noise. If you’re surrounded by it everywhere you go, then it can’t be that bad, right?
Well, as you should be able to tell by now, prolonged exposure to excessive noise has shown to cause a series of health problems that affect our mental and physical health as well as our overall quality of life.
Since the reality of our modern life means that we can’t silence the noise completely, we need to recognize that noise pollution can be a serious health hazard and do something about it.
So the next time you step into your home, listen intently to your appliances and see if you can make better choices and find realistic and sustainable ways to manage and reduce the noise in your environment.