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How does environmental noise affect your hearing health?

We live in a world where loud noise is just part and parcel of our busy lives. There is constant ongoing construction / roadworks around our towns and cities, along with crazy rush-hour traffic noise. We all have lots of electrical devices around our homes, some of which are constantly humming. Subconsciously, we learn to block out these noises but ultimately, we have to ask the question as to whether noise pollution is impacting our health.

Not all environmental noise is considered noise pollution. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that any noise above 65 dB can be considered noise pollution. If the noise level begins to exceed 75 dB, then it becomes harmful to your hearing. If the level continues to rise and reaches 120 dB or higher, then it could be painful and could also cause permanent damage to your hearing. Interestingly, for a restful night’s sleep, experts recommend that any noise during the night should be kept below 30 dB.

So what are the noises that we would consider as noise pollution?

Traffic noise

The majority of noise pollution in a city is caused by traffic. Engines and cars beeping can reach very high levels, for example a car beeping its horn can reach 90 dB.

Air traffic noise

Obviously there are less planes than cars, however the noise of a plane engine can exceed 130 dB which far exceeds the recommended listening levels.

Construction noise

There are always roadworks, building sites and resurfacing works going on in towns and cities. This type of construction work often produces very high levels of noise. A pneumatic drill alone can produce noise of up to 110 dB. It has long been recommended that construction workers who operate noisy machinery wear ear protection.

Restaurants, bars and clubs

A good night out can be noisier than you anticipated! Background music and chatter in restaurants, coupled with noise from the kitchen can reach pretty high levels. It goes without saying that if a night ends in a club, you are going to be exposed to sound levels over 100 dB.

A busy bar scene through the window from the outside.

A busy bar and restaurant can be a lot noisier than you anticipate!

Wildlife

Often the noise created by animals is forgotten about when we talk about noise pollution but if a dog is barking or howling, the noise can reach up to 80 dB. If this continues over a long period of time then it would definitely contribute to noise pollution.

There is a lot more noise pollution in large cities than there is in the countryside for obvious reasons. However, people in smaller towns and villages do also experience noise pollution. The world’s noisiest city is Guangzhou in China, followed by New Delhi in India and then Cairo in Egypt. You’ll be pleased to hear that none of the top 10 noisiest places are in Malta.

What are the impacts of noise on our health?

Stress and anxiety

If you are continually exposed to loud noise, it can end up leading to chronic stress and anxiety. Whenever we have elevated levels of stress hormones, it can have a negative impact on the cardiovascular system. This in turn can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Living in a noisy environment can be linked to an increased risk of mental health problems, such as depression and certain mood disorders.

Poor sleep quality

We discussed above that it is recommended that the noise level is below 30 dB for a restful night’s sleep. When noise disrupts your sleep pattern it can lead to poor sleep quality. This has a general negative effect on your overall health.

Noise-induced hearing loss

If you’re a regular of this blog, you will already be well aware that any prolonged exposure to a high level of noise can cause hearing damage, sometimes permanently. Not only can loud noise cause hearing loss, it can also cause tinnitus. Tinnitus is a constant ringing, buzzing or hissing sound that is only heard by the sufferer. Tinnitus is a horribly debilitating disorder if it is not treated and can lead to an increased risk of depression.

It’s important that we all take noise pollution seriously and take steps to protect ourselves. The most obvious and effective step is to keep the time we are spending in noisy environments to a minimum. This is especially important for loud and prolonged noise. If your career means you need to work with loud noise, such as machinery, you should be using noise protection devices. This could be earplugs or muffs.

If you are worried that you have experienced noise induced hearing damage, please ensure you get yourself booked in with an audiologist who can perform a full hearing consultation with you. If you have any other queries or would like further advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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