Man has a poor track record of recognizing disease-causing agents. And often, once the agents have been recognized, people are still reluctant to change. Tobacco is an obvious example of this, but there are many more including: lead, asbestos, mercury, certain pesticides, and some foods such as trans fats.
One commonly overlooked disease causer is noise pollution. (See our article, “How noise pollution affects the body,” for detailed information on this.) Right now, the World Health Organization found that traffic noise alone is harmful to the health of almost every third person in Europe. One in five, they found, were exposed to nighttime sound levels that could significantly damage health. The numbers are similar elsewhere.
As our population continues to grow, the sources of noise will continue to become more numerous (and obnoxious). Unfortunately, in the United States we’ve made negative progress in the way of legislation. The 1972 Noise Control Act—which was created to protect Americans from noise that poses a threat health and welfare—was terminated in 1982 due to a lack of federal funding.
As individuals, we are incapable of completely changing our environment to eliminate excess noises—such things will need to be left up to government, city planners, etc.—however, there are still things we can do while we wait:
1. Turn off your electronics. Computers, game systems, televisions and the like all make noise when they’re not in use—whether it’s a fan spinning or that high-pitched, barely-audible screech some TVs make in standby. Over time, all of these sounds cause stress on the ears. Turn them off when you are not using them. A little extra effort is worth it; as a bonus, you’ll save some money on electricity.
2. Sound proof your space. There are a lot of things you can do to reduce the sound at home (or perhaps your workplace).
- If you have hard floors, rugs will go a long way in the fight to dampen sound.
- Windows are a known weak point in many structures. Installing better windows, sealing window frames, or hanging curtains (even thin ones) will help reduce the sound coming from outside.
- If you have noisy neighbors on one side of you, put furniture or a big bookshelf (preferably full of books) against that wall.
- If you have laundry machines in a separate room, shut the door. Also try running appliances like dishwashers and bread machines when you’re getting ready to leave the house for a bit. When you’re gone they can make as much noise as they want.
3. Mask or cancel noise. Several options are available for you here. Some people like to create peaceful sounds around them. You can do this by hanging wind chimes, turning on a fan, or running a small water feature. It may seem paradoxical because you’re creating more noise, however these things help mask the more unpleasant sounds that may otherwise bother you.
People who really need help tuning sounds out could opt for a white noise machine. White noise consists of sounds of all audible frequencies (the same way white light is a combination of all visible wavelengths). White noise is able to effectively mask most outside sounds. Many people who use such machines frequently report ‘not hearing anything at all’ including the noise machine.
“Noise canceling” devices are also available. These devices use a microphone to intercept incoming sounds. Then they send out “anti-noise” signals to cancel the noise. Noise canceling headphones or smartphone apps are among the cheaper noise canceling options. Hearing aid type devices are also available, but are much more expensive
4. Earplugs. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. If nighttime noise keeps you awake, earplugs could be your ticket to sweet slumber. Just make sure you set your alarm loud enough. Earplugs can also be great if you are going to a noisy event or concert. They don’t block out all the noise; rather, they bring sounds down to a manageable level.
5. Move. This one sounds drastic, but it may be worth it. Sometimes barrier walls and thick curtains can only do so much (and we’re not about to line our walls with egg carton foam). While moving outside the city (or perhaps suburbs) will reduce your sound levels greatly, it is not possible for everyone. However, be aware that sound levels can vary quite a bit even within a city. You may not have to move very far to experience a significant drop in noise. Choosing a home away from aircraft paths, trains, highways, or industrial districts is your best bet. Several cities (such as San Francisco) have even published noise maps showing which streets and areas are the loudest.
There are two more things regarding your hearing that we want to mention:
First, it is important to limit the volume of your electronic devices, especially headphones. Hearing loss is a result of cumulative noise over time—and there’s no reversing it. It’s good practice not to set the volume higher than you need to hear it. If you can’t hear because of the noise surrounding you, consider investing in a pair of noise canceling headphones.
Most music players (such as iPods) have maximum volumes you can set to prevent you from turning them too loud. Noise induced hearing loss is increasing in children and adolescents. Right now, an estimated 80% of elementary school children use personal music players; experts believe this is part of the problem. Remember to limit their devices so they don’t turn them too loud.
Secondly, it may be a good investment to get your ears cleaned—as strange as it may sound. Large amounts of wax can cause an annoying ringing in the ears called tinnitus. Getting your ears cleaned might be a simple, but often overlooked, solution to an annoying problem. You can get your ears cleaned professionally by an audiologist or doctor. Home remedies, such as using Q-tips or ear candles are not recommended by medical professionals.