Our urban environments are transforming right before our eyes. Technological developments make it possible to travel at lightening speeds, to move goods and consumer products directly to their intended locations, and to reconstruct the natural world in order to suit our desires and needs. Although these developments seem like moves in the direction of “progress,” they do not come without a cost. Each of the transportation and construction developments we devise results in not only added noise but also more people who want to take advantage of the development. Take, for example, transportation. When technology made it possible to have goods delivered right to your door, transportation had to accommodate new shipping and delivery. Yet, not only was the added noise of shipping increased through the development, but more and more people also wanted to take advantage of door-to-door delivery of products. As these noises escalate, we enter a world of noise pollution that the species and the planet has never faced before.
The Effects of Noise Pollution
Noise pollution results in not only hearing damage and discomfort. Sleeping problems and stress are associated with noise in our residential areas, particularly in the rooms where we sleep. It is recommended to sleep in an environment with less than 30 A-weighted decibels (equivalent to the ambient noise of a quiet rural area) while we sleep. Not only are sleeping and stress problems at risk when a person is exposed to undue noise pollution, health effects can be much more drastic. Heart disease and even dementia can be related to noise pollution, as a result of the hearing loss that is incurred.
The effects of noise pollution extend far beyond humans. Bats, owls, and other species of birds rely on sound to be able to catch and eat insects and other forms of prey. They also use sound for echolocation and migration. We have seen areas transform where these animals were once able to thrive and now they are unable to survive due to noise pollution. These ecological effects cannot be underestimated. In addition to the potential cost to biodiversity of endangered species, the chain reaction of the absence of these predators can lead to the harmful presence of the prey in massive numbers.
What Can Be Done?
Given the escalating damage of noise pollution, what can we do to protect ourselves? Although ecologists are investigating both the effects of noise pollution and the potential solutions, public health officials have been tasked with protecting the hearing of the human population. The World Health Organization calls noise pollution an underestimated threat to human health, potentially causing “sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance, hearing impairment.” With such devastating potential effects on the world population, they asked about the source of noise pollution and what we can do to protect ourselves.
Oddly enough, our own voluntary decisions play a big part in the path to protection. Leisure sound and noise are responsible for many of the damaging effects of noise pollution. Music and sound amplification technology, including Bluetooth, have made it easy and enjoyable to listen to incredibly loud music in public spaces. Traveling through an urban environment, you are likely to encounters shops and other places of business that blast speakers into the street and common areas. Exposure to this public sound is literally deafening, and limiting your exposure is important to your future and present health.
One of the other hidden culprits is the use of headphones and earbuds. These units are designed to send sound directly to the inner ear, but that sound continues to be mingled with noise pollution, as well. For instance, if you are using headphones on noisy transportation like a train, the sound in the headphones has to compete with the sound of the transportation and the environment. In combination, the volume level can be unnecessarily loud. Noise-cancelling headphones send a signal to eliminate environmental sound, allowing you to play music or audio at a lower level. The general rule of thumb is 80/90: you should only use headphones at 80 percent of the maximum volume for 90 minutes per day. If you want to use headphones for longer, a lower volume is recommended.
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If you’ve noticed changes in your hearing or are concerned about tracking your hearing abilities, contact us at Professional Hearing Services. We provide comprehensive hearing health services and hearing aid fittings. Contact us today to learn more.