SmallerNASA_LEED_Logo5“NASALink”“LeedLink”
Copyright 2017 LJ Avalon LLC | All Rights Reserved
All Photos/Copy Registered @ Library of Congress

Noise Induced Health Risks

Noise-Induced Unhealthiness: Do You Show Any Symptoms?

It’s no secret that noise pollution can be harmful to your health, and the World Health Organization (WHO) wants you to know the potential consequences of this invisible pollutant.

Folks who live in urban areas are exposed to dangerously high levels of noise pollution every day, which translates to anything above 55 decibels  roughly the sound equivalent of ordinary conversational speech. Industrial and manufacturing plants, freeway, highways, and air traffic noise, busy restaurants and bars, overcrowded public spaces – all of these and more can add up to noise pollution levels that are making people sick.  Even if you don’t live in the bustling city, you still have a significant chance of  suffering the ill effects of noise pollution.  Simply attending noisy events, such as indoor basketball games and other sporting events, live concerts, an aerobics class at the gym can expose you to high noise levels that contribute to the development of tinnitus, hearing loss, and other health problems associated with noise pollution.

So what does WHO consider to be the top health issues directly related to noise?

1. Tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss are the most common consequences of exposure to noise for long periods of time. Researchers say that exposure to 85 decibels for eight hours or longer can cause serious hearing damage. In case you’re wondering, 85 decibels sounds like a large truck rambling down the highway. Live rock concerts can emit more than 100 decibels continuously, which is why your ears tingle when you leave.  When you develop noise-induced tinnitus, that tingle becomes a constant ringing in your ears that doesn’t go away.

2. Diminished communication skills were found to be the result of prolonged noise exposure.  Noise can lessen our ability to communicate as effectively as we once could. The problem can be so severe, victims of this side-effect of exposure to noise lose the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. They can be more easily prone to confusion, stress,  faltering speech, indecision and impatience.  However, technology is stepping in with some answers. If your hearing is seriously diminished, Apple has an app for that.

3. Sleep disorders can be the result of exposure to high noise levels, which can lead to chronic insomnia, a medical condition that can cause emotional strain, despondency, a sense of dejection, aggressiveness, and antisocial behavior.  When your body’s natural sleep cycle is interfered with, your health is put at risk. When the problem is chronic, it can lead to serious mental and physical illnesses, and even put you at a heightened risk of heart attack.

4. Heart arrhythmia can result from exposure to excess noise, since noise pollution is known to cause sleep disorders, stress, and worsen cardiovascular disease. Elevated heart rates, hypertension, elevated heart rate, and inappropriate triggers of the flight-or-fight response are all common repercussions of exposure to excess noise.

5. Psychiatric disorders, although not caused by exposure to noise, are known to be exacerbated by it. People already suffering from stress and anxiety disorders can experience exaggerated symptoms. When the noise is loud and continuous, it can intensify aggressiveness, mood swings, phobias, and antisocial behavior in the mentally ill. Most alarming is the erosion of well-being that noise pollution can have on unstable or medically weakened children and elderly people, who have a heightened inability to cope with loud sounds.

6. Diminished or lost productivity is an expensive and life altering side effect of noise pollution, which is known to reduce cognitive function. In school children, noise pollution has been proven to interfere with learning, reading skills, information retention and overall academic development and performance. In adults, it negatively affects problem-solving skills, socio-emotional development, work performance and ambition. Businesses lose billions of dollars annually as a result of noise-related lost productivity.

Negative Emotions: Many clinical studies have shown that low frequency noise produces seriously negative emotions in people, including fatigue, despair, aggression, unhappiness, anxiety and distraction. Even though these behavioral changes are most often subtle, they influence the daily behaviors and activities of sufferers and manifest in some unsocial behaviors such as door slamming, being accident prone, and even avoiding neighbors or friends.

You may even know people who exhibit some of the behaviors associated with noise-induced illness, and maybe you identify a few of them in yourself. Become more aware of your surroundings and make a note of any noise exposure you think may be affecting your mood or your health. Wherever possible, make the changes necessary to eliminate excess noise from your environment.

Health Effects and Risks of Noise

Any sudden loud noise triggers our natural fight-or-flight response; the heart pumps harder, blood pressure rises, and the body releases cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones.) It is the inability to predict the sound that will bring on this response, which is why your body does not react similarly when you perform actions that cause loud noise, such as running the vacuum cleaner or revving your car engine. This unexpected and repeated triggering of the fight-or-flight reflex can take a toll on your health and well-being.

Our ancestors used the fight-or-flight instinct to survive; today, it actually has the opposite effect, causing higher rates of anxiety and cardiovascular stress. Researchers have made a direct connection between unwanted ambient noise and increased blood pressure. The higher the noise level, in fact, the higher the risk of hypertension, which is a major cause of heart disease. Studies of the effects of noise on health has researchers estimating that three percent of all fatal heart attacks can be attributed to stress induced by excessive environmental noise.

There are options for reducing the levels of ambient noise from your daily life. Whenever possible, installing sound proofing material like Acoustiblok in new construction and retrofits reduces the effects of ambient noise by up to 70-percent or more. UL-approved Acoustiblok can reduce more sound than 12-inches of concrete.

Noise reducing headphones or ear plugs are quick fixes for blocking unwelcome sound. It is important to take steps toward correcting noise problems in our own environments, whether it means closing windows, replacing noisy appliances or even moving away from noisy train or airport vicinities. As scientists reveal more findings regarding the effects of noise on health, more people are becoming proactive in their own personal zen levels by taking steps to quiet their world.

Loud noise can have serious consequences to an individual’s health and well being. Elevated workplace or other noise can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, stress-related illnesses, premature ejaculation, sleep disturbance, decreased sexual performance and even death. Some experts suggest that changes in the immune system and birth defects have been attributed to noise exposure, although evidence is limited. Although some hearing loss may occur naturally with age, in many developed nations the cumulative impact of noise is sufficient to impair the hearing of a large portion of the population over the course of a lifetime.  Exposure to loud noise has also been known to induce tinnitus, hypertension, vasoconstriction and other cardiovascular impacts. Beyond these effects, elevated noise levels can create stress, increase workplace accident rates, and stimulate aggression and other anti-social behaviors. The most significant culprits are vehicle and aircraft noise, prolonged exposure to loud music, and industrial noise.

The social costs of traffic noise in European countries and the U.S. is in the billions of dollars per year, with traffic noise alone is harming the health of one in every three people in some high-traffic communities. One in five individuals is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health.

The location of site and noise generators near sites which are noisy include major roads, railroads, industrial plants, etc. Traffic maps and land use maps from highway departments, planning agencies, railroads, and airport authorities may document such noise generators.

Noise is also a detriment to animal habitats and ecosystems.

Acoustiblok All Weather Sound Panels and other noise abatement products are helping industries and individuals combat noise-related problems every day. Acoustiblok’s sound absorption capability is more effective than a 12-inch poured concrete barrier.

Noise Induced Sleep Deprivation is a Global Health Problem

Hoping to find a more targeted approach to helping people who suffer from sleep deprivation,  researchers have been studying the brains of people who are able to sleep through the night even when subjected to noise levels that prevent others from sleeping well.

Are some folks just better wired to block out noise? If so, can the gift nature bestowed on them be used to help others who are struggling with noise-related sleep impairment? As most of us already know, environmental noise can wreak havoc on sleep quality, which can eventually impact our health. In fact, studies showing the heightened incidents of heart attacks in people exposed to noise pollution from excessive road traffic noise note sleep disturbances among those issues that are common to most (if not all) study participants.

According to a 2009 CDC survey, approximately one in 10 Americans report difficulty sleeping. More than 50 million Americans are plagued with chronic sleep disorders that can potentially lead to serious health problems.

Electroencephalography (EEG) testing on 12 healthy people, performed by researchers from Harvard Medical School and  Massachusetts General Hospital, was used in the study to establish sleep quality. By capturing brain wave rhythms through the EEG scans, researchers could identify movements made as each test subject passed from one stage of sleep to the next.

The researchers subjected people to sensory information, including sound, which passes through the thalamus – a structure in the brain that relays sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, and also regulates consciousness, sleep, and alertness. The sound passes through the thalamus before it reaches the brain’s cortex, where communication signals are processed, even during sleep.

Here’s why this is important, if somewhat confusing to non-scientists. In the second and third stages of sleep, brain wave patterns actually slow down but then are scattered with short, quick pulses called spindles. Spindles only occur during sleep, and researchers think that spindles might help block sensory information like noise from reaching the thalamus to begin with. So, maybe some extra spindle activity could be the answer to sleeping through noise?

What these researchers did to test this theory was to alter the noise levels delivered to the sleeping subjects over a three-day period. The first night they kept things quiet, but the second and third nights the subjects were exposed to noise beginning with 40 decibels for 10 second intervals.  By measuring the brain activity each night and then comparing the differeces, researchers concluded that those test subjects who could sleep through noise levels equivalent to a telephone ringing or highway traffic were determined to have higher spindle rates on their EEGs.

The effects were so pronounced, according to one researcher, that they could be measured after just one noise-filled night.  The next step is to figure out if behavioral techniques, new drugs, or external devices might offer an added boost to spindle activity, which will allow people who are noise sensitive to maintain a healthy, natural state of sleep when confronted with noise.

So far, the best we can do is provide a sleep environment in the home that is as quiet and possible. Installing noise blocking and noise absorbing materials into one or more rooms can have a dramatic effect on sleep quality, and the quality of our sleep plays a huge role in the quality of our lives.

It’s great that researchers are seeking answers to help people sleep in noisy environments, but before we turn to methods to interfere with noise transmission to the brain, shouldn’t we be looking at ways to reduce noise pollution from our environment first?

Noise abatement materials improve all the time, and in many new home building projects architects and contractors are writing the soundproofing material right into the design, so that installation happens before drywall goes up and there’s no worries about retrofitting later.  Other options for blocking environmental noise pollution from residences and outdoor spaces are available, effective, and drug-free.

Noise Pollution is Surpassing Mold as the Top Health Offender

In an age when noise pollution is surpassing mold as the top health offender in multi-unit construction, more and more architects and builders are incorporating some sort of noise abatement solution into residential properties, as well as commercial and industrial buildings to meet a growing demand to address not only noise but the threat of noise complaint litigation. As noise abatement technology becomes more sophisticated, a growing movement to rid our home, work and leisure spaces of high decibel intrusion is taking shape, and sound abatement manufacturers are competing like never before to restore quiet to living spaces.

A host of elements have stirred demand for noise reduction applications: global economic factors, urban and suburban build-out and oppressive land price increases have spawned higher density, multi-unit development. More people are living and working in highly concentrated environments. Unwanted noise from neighbors has become a high-priority lifestyle issue for people living in apartment and condominium housing complexes. In a national survey of 1,500 multi-family housing residents conducted by Richmond, Va.,-based Alan Newman Research, noisy neighbors are the number one cause of irritation when it comes to multifamily living. More than 60-percent of those polled rated noisy neighbors who can be heard through the walls as the top noise compliant, with loud music following a distant second.

In the case of The Lexington, JDA Group commercial and residential developers installed sound abatement material under the drywall and sub-flooring of each unit during construction to create living spaces that are void of ambient noise from outside traffic, as well as adjoining apartments. This patented material, made by Tampa, Fla.-based Acoustiblok Inc., is attached to the studs before drywall is hung during the construction or renovation phase. This flexible material is a heavy, mineral-filled viscoelastic polymer that absorbs sound and transforms it into inaudible friction energy. Since the product can be cut to fit during installation, it can be applied to any type of project.

WHO Names Seven Most Detrimental Effects of Noise Pollution

By now, most people know that noise pollution is unhealthy. Still, too many aren’t familiar with just how unhealthy. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been increasing its public service messages worldwide since identifying noise as a serious environmental hazard. As part of its campaign to educate global audiences on the dangers of noise pollution, WHO has clarified its warnings by releasing a list of the seven most severe health problems related to noise.

For people living in urban communities, noise pollution is dangerously high, according to WHO. By dangerously high, they’re saying anything over 55 decibels, which equates to an ordinary conversation.  Crowded public spaces that combine industrial, commercial, and some residential noise – think industrial and manufacturing plants, air traffic, bustling restaurants, bars and clubs, highways and freeways, and even everyday sounds such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and construction equipment – add up to noise that makes people sick. In fact, we’re asking for trouble in the form of tinnitus just by attending a live concert, sporting event or festival.

It may be hard to believe that so many noisy elements of our everyday lives can be dangerous to our health, a message WHO has been trying to spread for the past decade.

In a nutshell, here are the top seven health effects that noise pollution can lead to:

1.     Tinnitus and hearing loss.

Arguably the most common consequence to long stretches of exposure to noise is tinnitus, usually described as a ringing sound within the ear although in some people the sound can be a high-pitched whining, buzzing, hissing, ticking, clicking or roaring. It can take the form of a sound like crickets or tree frogs chirping, beeping, sizzling, sounds that slightly resemble human voices, or even a pure steady tone similar to a tone heard during a hearing test. Tinnitus can be continuous, or it can come and go, and it can cause a lot of distress.

According to WHO, exposure to noise above 55 decibels for long periods of time – more than eight hours daily – can be problematic. Exposure to decibel levels above 85 for eight hours or longer can result in serious hearing damage. A large truck lumbering down a freeway is what 85 decibels sound like. Live rock concerts easily spike over 100 decibels, and are notorious for their after-effects, which can include a ringing in the ears or even temporary hearing loss, depending on the decibel levels, proximity to speakers and length of the concert. When you leave the concert and the tingling in your ears never goes away, you’ve developed tinnitus.

2.     Lowered productivity.

Researchers have found that noise pollution has the life-changing effect of reducing cognitive function. In school children, this means delayed learning, stunted reading skills, high rates of distraction, lowered information retention skills and academic performance. For businesses, noise related declines in productivity are expensive, and the impact on businesses is believed to be in the billions of dollars. Adults whose productivity is diminished because of noise pollution experience stunted problem-solving skills, work performance and drive.

3.     Decreased communication skills.

Prolonged exposure to noise reduces our ability to communicate effectively. In addition to losing the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, people who have been affected by noise pollution are more readily susceptible to stress, confusion, indecision, faltering speech and impatience.

4.     Sleep disorders.

Chronic exposure to high noise levels can interfere with sleep and eventually lead to insomnia, a medical condition that can lead to other health problems.  Depression, emotional strain, aggressiveness, and antisocial behavior are just a few of the side effects of noise-induced sleep deprivation. Any time the body’s natural sleep cycle is obstructed, it becomes a health risk that can lead to serious mental and physical illnesses including an increased risk of heart attack.

5.     Heart arrhythmia.

Exposure to excessive noise can cause stress and exacerbate cardiovascular disease. It can lead to an elevated heart rate, hypertension, and inappropriate triggers of the brain chemicals that give us our “flight-or-fight” response, which nature meant to alert us to imminent life-or-death danger. When noise is causing false triggers of these chemicals, it takes a toll on the heart and nervous system.

6.     Exacerbates psychiatric disorders.

Although medical researchers say that noise does not cause psychiatric disorders, people suffering from a psychiatric condition may find their symptoms worsened by exposure to high noise levels. Those suffering from mental illness experience heightened anxiety, phobias, aggressive behavior, stress, mood swings, and antisocial behavior. On medically weakened patients, particularly children and the elderly, the repercussions of exposure to noise can interfere with healing and weaken their ability to cope.

7.     Triggers Negative Emotions.

Clinical studies have shown time and again that low frequency noise – noise from amplified music, pumps, fans, boilers, electrical installations, ventilation systems, and other sources – can conjure extremely negative emotions in some people. Symptoms can include aggression, fatigue, unhappiness, despair, anxiety and distraction, which can influence the everyday behavior of those exposed for long periods of time. Antisocial behaviors such as door slamming and avoiding neighbors or friends can be the result of chronic exposure to low frequency noise.

As more people become familiar with the obvious and subtle damage noise pollution can have on their physical and mental well-being, the expectation is that more individuals will take steps to eliminate or block excessive noise from their environments, for their own well-being and the well-being of loved ones.

Persistent Workplace Noise More Than Doubles Risk of Heart Disease

A persistently noisy workplace more than doubles an employee’s risk of serious heart disease, suggests research published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Young male smokers seem to be particularly at risk,according to the study’s findings.

The researchers base their findings on a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 U.S. employees, aged 20 and up, who had been part of the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2004.

This study included detailed household interviews, addressing lifestyle and occupational health, medical examinations, and blood tests.

Participants were grouped into those who endured persistent loud noise at work, to the extent that it was difficult to talk at normal volume for at least three months, and those working in more comfortable surroundings.

One in five (21-percent) workers said they put up with a noisy workplace for an average of almost nine consecutive months. This group, whose average age is 40, also tended to smoke and weigh more than their peers working in quieter work environments, adding to the group’s risk factors for heart disease.

Workers in persistently noisy workplaces were between two to three times as likely to have serious heart problems as their peers in quiet workplaces.

The association to heart disease was particularly strong among workers under 50, who made up more than 4,500 of the total sample. They were between three and four times as likely to have angina or coronary artery disease or to have had a heart attack.

Blood tests of these workers did not indicate particularly high levels of cholesterol or inflammatory proteins, both of which are associated with heart disease. But diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure of the artery walls when the heart relaxes between heartbeats, was higher than normal, a condition known as isolated diastolic hypertension, or IDH. This is an independent predictor of serious heart problems.

The findings suggest that those employees regularly exposed to loud noise at work were twice as likely to have IDH.

The authors speculate that loud noise day after day may be as strong an external stressor as sudden strong emotion or physical exertion, the effect of which is to prompt various chemical messengers to constrict blood flow through the coronary arteries.

Researchers conclude: “This study suggests that excess noise exposure in the workplace is an important occupational health issue and deserves special attention.”

Source: British Medical Journal (BMJ)

Noise Related Hearing Loss in Industrialized Nations: New Discoveries Through Electron Tomography

New studies in hearing loss are increasing steadily, and the scientific world in scrambling to understand, and hopefully come up with some answers to the effects of man made noise on human hearing.

One researcher – Manfred Auer of Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division – caught my eye with this succinct comment: “Finding a way to regenerate hair cells is the Holy Grail of research; We’re born with just 16,000 hair cells in the cochlea, and every passing subway train kills a few of them.”

Finding a way to regenerate the delicate inner ear hair cells is work Auer and other researchers are dedicating large chunks of time and resources to, as the industrialed world suffers greater degrees of hearing loss each year.

One out of a thousand children in the United States is born deaf; ten percent of all people living in industrialized nations suffer from severe hearing loss — 30 million in the U.S. alone. These are pressing clinical reasons to learn just how hearing works and why it fails.

“Hearing in humans is a remarkable faculty,” says Auer “It works over six orders of magnitude, from a whisper to the roar of a jet engine. If it were just a little more sensitive, we’d be able to hear the atoms colliding with our eardrums — in other words, our hearing is about as sensitive as we can stand without going crazy.”

Hearing is also remarkable for its ability to adapt to constant loud noise yet still manage to pick out barely distinguishable sounds, “like being able to follow a single conversation across the room at a cocktail party, or hearing someone shout at you over the noise of a rock band,” says Auer.

And humans can pinpoint the source of a sound to within less than a degree: one ear hears the sound slightly before the other, and the brain calculates the direction from the offset. But the difference in arrival times is less than a millionth of a second, a thousand times faster than most biochemical processes; thus hearing must depend on direct mechanical detection of sounds instantly translated into nerve signals.

The inner ear’s hair cells are the key. They convert mechanical responses into electrical signals that trigger adjacent neurons in the brain — a prime example of a phenomenon, fundamental in tissue and cell biology, known as mechanosensation. Hair cells are embedded in the epithelial lining of the cochlea, where they respond mechanically to sound vibrations; others in the nearby vestibular labyrinth move in response to radial and linear acceleration and are the source of the sense of balance.

Thus beyond practical concerns lie basic scientific questions about the exact molecular composition and three-dimensional architecture of hair cells and related entities. A uniquely powerful tool for exploring biological structures at this sub-cellular but supramolecular level is electron microscope tomography — electron tomography for short.

A Hairdo for Hearing

The part of the hair cell that mechanically responds to vibration (or acceleration) is a bundle of fibers called stereocilia, sticking out of the top of the cell like a radical hairdo. In zebrafish the stereocilia are arranged in stair-step fashion. The tallest shaft, made of bundles of cylindrical microtubules, acts like a tent pole to support the development of all the others, which are made of bundles of the protein actin. Each actin-based fiber is shorter than the one next to it, and the tip of each lower fiber is attached diagonally to the side of the adjacent taller fiber by a fine filament called a tip link.

When vibration pushes against the bundle of stereocilia the fibers lean over, stretching the tip-link filaments. This pulls open nearby channels in the fibers (one or two per fiber), allowing potassium ions to flow into the fiber and down to the body of the cell. The electrical balance between calcium and potassium ions in the cell is instantly changed, triggering a signal to adjacent neurons.

If the hair bundle remains bent by persistent noise, a higher level of calcium in the cell signals the structural protein myosin, also present in the stereocilia, to slide down along the actin fibers. By resetting the tension on the tip-link springs in this way, hair cells can adapt to sustained noise levels.

“There are two ways hearing can be damaged by loud noises,” Auer says. “Noise can stress the stereocilia bundle so much that the tip links break. However they usually grow back in 24 hours — this is the rock-concert effect, where hearing loss is temporary. But loud noises can also shear off whole bundles of stereocilia. In mammals these can’t regenerate, and the loss is permanent.”

Finding a way to regenerate hair cells, says Auer, “is the Holy Grail of research. We’re born with just 16,000 hair cells in the cochlea, and every passing subway train kills a few of them.”

Taken individually, the images of stereocilia from which Auer and his colleagues construct electron tomographs don’t look much different from the many other microscopic studies of these structures — including blobs near the tips of the fibers that researchers customarily dismissed as “dirt.” But, says Auer, “We think there is no such thing as dirt.”

Because electron tomography allows “dissection in silico” Auer’s group has been able to analyze these mysterious artifacts, giving rise to provocative hints of unsuspected tip-link structures — including whether there may be more than a single tip link between fibers, how tip links are structured, and what protein or proteins constitute the tip links.

“Until lately, the only protein firmly associated with stereo-cilia tip structures besides actin was myosin. Now we have 50 candidates — all because we could look at that ‘dirt’ in 3-D.” Auer and his collaborators have developed good evidence for just which proteins are involved in tip-links and in other links among stereo-cilia. They plan to publish their findings soon.

And That’s Just the Beginning

“For years, because they have understandably concentrated on disease organisms, microbiologists ignored the most basic condition of bacterial life, which is that bacteria live in communities,” Auer says. Already electron tomography studies have revealed fascinating and unsuspected features of the bacterial communities known as biofilms. Contrary to what most biologists have thought, some biofilms — supposedly made up of independent bacterial cells — have many of the hallmarks of organized tissues.

Indeed, Auer says, “a biofilm is a prokaryotic version of a tissue,” and he plans to publish research results soon, demonstrating these similarities in startling detail.

Because electron tomography can bridge the gap between ultrahigh-resolution protein structures and the large-scale organization of cells and tissues available to the light microscope, Auer says, “I would contend that electron tomography will play a major role in investigating all aspects of biology — in structural biology, cell biology, proteomics, biochemistry, physiology, pathology, evolution, everything. Once you have this new toy, you can apply it to all these questions.”

Noise Induced Hearing Loss is a Growing Problem Nationwide

Rock legend Pete Townshend of “The Who” has severe hearing damage resulting partly from the band’s live gigs, but mainly from the deafening volume in which he used to listen to playbacks over the studio “cans.” Completely deaf in one ear, Townshend’s hearing damage manifested itself as tinnitus, a condition Townshend calls painful and frustrating.

Hearing loss due to environmental noise is a serious health hazard today, and it is on the rise.  Exposure to loud noise for extended periods of time can lead to irreversible hearing loss and other health problems.

Of course there is no one “cure” for noise pollution, but there are preventative measures that can be taken.

Noise induced hearing loss can be generated from industrial noise as well as exposure to any amplified sounds, such as at concerts and nightclubs. Usually, hearing loss experienced from attending an extremely loud event is only temporary and will correct itself in time. However, musicians who entertain regularly in these environments often suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss over the course of their careers. Individuals who listen to music at extremely high volumes routinely are also vulnerable to permanent hearing loss.

Industrial sectors like airline, highway and light rail train systems, mining operations, construction, manufacturing and engineering industries contribute to the most serious levels of industrial noise pollution. In fact, according to OSHA officials, every year, approximately 30 million people in the United States are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise.

Fortunately, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss can be reduced or eliminated through the successful application of acoustical controls and hearing conservation programs.  Employers today must invest in hearing protection measures that correspond to the type of noise and decibel levels to which their employees are subjected.

Generally, there are three levels of noise hazards: Impact noise (as in an explosion or gunshots); Intermittent noise (such as noise generated from heavy vehicle traffic), and continuous noise (machinery that runs constantly, such as generators, industrial pumps, lawn equipment, jackhammers, conveyors, residential heat pumps, etc.).

Businesses with noise issues serious enough to effect employees, visitors, neighbors or pedestrians look for noise reduction solutions that are most adaptable to their particular noise source and are capable of dramatically reducing noise and the health risks that go with it.  Businesses with machinery so loud that ordinary conversation is impossible risk additional hazards when employees and visitors cannot communicate adequately.

In some industries such as mining and construction, specially designed ear protectors, or ear muffs offer protection from hearing loss in extreme noise surroundings, and in some instances enable communication by utilizing Bluetooth technology. In other settings, such as airport terminals, hospitals, jails and prisons, restaurants and others that experience high decibel ambient noise levels, sound barriers and sound reduction materials offer more practical solutions to combatting the health risks of noise pollution.

People need to become proactive about protecting their hearing throughout their lifetime. Today, Townshend promotes taking protective measures, including wearing earplugs, to reduce loud music to a level that does not damage the ear.

But it’s not loud music alone that is damaging American’s hearing. Environmental noise pollution is becoming a plague; individuals need to become proactive when it comes to protecting themselves from all types of damaging noise whenever possible.

Noise: A Health Hazard More Pervasive Than Second Hand Smoke

My wife and I recently took our three sons to Benihana for dinner. It’s their favorite restaurant, thanks to the unbeatable combination of airborne food and machete-size knives.

But what I noticed was the noise: the hiss of the soy sauce on the grill, the escalating chatter of the crowd—and our young sons, who are loud beyond comprehension. Each carried a little plastic trumpet from a birthday party, so it was like being followed around by our own private South African soccer game. We finally pried the ghastly instruments from their hands.

I’ve started to become aware of just how loud our world is. Spend an hour listening. The chirping text messages, the droning airplanes, the flatulent trucks,the howling cable pundits, the chiming MacBooks.

And noise is no minor nuisance. It is one of the great underappreciated health hazards of our time – the second hand smoke of our times.

Noise pollution doesn’t get the attention of A-list diseases, but there are a few crusaders raising their voices against the onslaught. One of them is Arline Bronzaft. a professor emeritus at the City University of New York.

What’s the problem with this high-decibel world? “The most obvious one is hearing loss,” Dr. Bronzaft says. Some 26 million adults are walking around with noise-induced hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Noise also has a surprisingly potent effect on our stress level, cardiovascular system and concentration. In Paleo times, a loud noise signaled a threat, so noise triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which raises blood pressure.

A University of British Columbia review of 6,300 people who work in noisy jobs found that they suffer two to three times more heart problems than those who work in quiet settings. A former World Health Organization official estimates (with a bit of alarmism) that noise-induced strain may cause 45,000 deadly heart attacks a year.

Noise also wreaks havoc on the brain. Dr. Bronzaft conducted a landmark study at a public school in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, published in the journal Environment and Behavior in 1975. Some of the classrooms directly faced an elevated subway track. Every five minutes the students heard a train rattle by. Other classrooms were tucked on the opposite side of the building, away from the noise. The difference? By the sixth grade, the kids on the noisy side were nearly a year behind. Since then, her conclusions about the effects of noise on concentration have been backed up by a pile of other studies, on both students and adults.

After meeting Dr. Bronzaft, I pledged to turn down the volume on my own life. I started in my kids’ room. I dug out all of their beeping, yammering electronic toys and spent a half-hour putting masking tape over the plastic speakers.

“What are you doing, Daddy?” asked my son Zane. “Just fixing the broken toys,” I half-lied. It was a smashing success, at least from my point of view. You can still hear “Chicken Dance Elmo” demand that we “flap our wings,” but he sounds like he’s submerged in a bathtub, which is what I’d really like to do to him.

Next up, ear protection. I tried rubber earplugs for a week, but I found them uncomfortable, so I shelled out for Bose noise-canceling headphones. On a plane trip to Atlanta, I slipped them over my ears, clicked the power switch and…well, the world didn’t go silent. But the headphones did turn the volume down from a 10 to a 7. Life took on a sort of dreamy, uterine feel.

In the next few weeks, I started to wear my headphones more and more—big silver-and-black earmuffs. My wife, Julie, has taken to calling me Lionel Richie, because I look like I just walked out of the recording studio for “We Are the World.” She remains skeptical, though, so to prove just how perilously loud our lives are, I ordered a decibel meter that I now take everywhere.

A decibel level above 85—the sound of a lawn mower—can cause permanent hearing loss. My son’s tantrum over missing the last five minutes of “Bubble Guppies” registered at 91, a subway car as it entered the station hit 110.

I tried to get a reading in an argument with Julie about whether or not I misplaced her Time magazine, but when I put the decibel meter near her mouth, she refused to talk. As the physicist Werner Heisenberg discovered about the quantum world, taking measurements can mess with reality.

By A.J. Jacobs, Wall Street Journal, 3/24/2012.

—Adapted from “Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection” by A.J. Jacobs, out in early April from Simon & Schuster.

Understanding Noise & Its Effects is Mission Critical to Your Health

People everywhere are subjected to ambient noise from construction equipment, air traffic, noisy neighbors, barking dogs, road traffic and a multitude of sources that contribute to serious noise-related health problems.

In the last U.S. Census report, Americans named noise as the number one problem in neighborhoods. Of the households surveyed, 11.3-percent stated that street or traffic noise was bothersome, and 4.4-percent said that the noise problems in their neighborhood were so bad, they wanted to move. More Americans are bothered by noise than by crime, odors and other problems listed under “other bothersome conditions.”

News agencies including CNN, the BBC and others are beginning to take a serious look at the health ramifications of noise in our everyday lives. Although many people might argue that humans have become conditioned to suppress noise, defined as “unwanted sound,” it can actually cause a physical response at a conscious or subconscious level that is often detrimental to the human body.  In fact, most of us do not consciously register all the noise our bodies absorb every day, yet our well-being is being seriously damaged by modern sound. Here are five things about sound and health that you may not know:

1.) You are a chord. This is obvious from physics, though it’s admittedly somewhat metaphorical to call the combined rhythms and vibrations within a human being a chord, which we usually understand to be an aesthetically pleasant audible collection of tones. But “the fundamental characteristic of nature is periodic functioning in frequency, or musical pitch,” according to C.T. Eagle. Matter is vibrating energy; therefore, we are a collection of vibrations of many kinds, which can be considered a chord.

2.) One definition of health is when the chord is in complete harmony. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” which opens at least three dimensions to the concept.

3.) We see one octave; we hear ten. An octave is a doubling in frequency. The visual spectrum in frequency terms is 400-790 THz, so it’s just under one octave. Humans with great hearing can hear from 20 Hz to 20 KHz, which is ten octaves.

4.) Noise harms and even kills. There is now a wealth of evidence about the harmful effect of noise, and yet most people still consider noise a local matter, not the major global issue it has become.

According to the European Union, “Around 20-percent of Europe’s (approximately 80 million people) suffer from noise levels that scientists and health experts consider to be unacceptable – that is, levels where most people become annoyed, where sleep is disturbed and where adverse health effects are to be feared. An additional 170 million citizens are living in so-called ‘grey areas’ where the noise levels are such to cause serious annoyance during the daytime.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) says “Traffic noise alone is harming the health of almost every third person in the WHO European Region. One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health.”

The WHO is also the source for the startling statistic about noise killing 200,000 people a year. Its findings (LARES report) estimate that 3 percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease result from long-term exposure to noise. With 7 million deaths a year globally, that means 210,000 people are dying of noise every year.

The cost of noise to society is astronomical. The EU again: “Present economic estimates of the annual damage in the EU due to environmental noise range from EUR 13 billion to 38 billion. Elements that contribute are a reduction of housing prices, medical costs, reduced possibilities of land use and cost of lost labor days.” (Future Noise Policy European Commission Green Paper 1996).

Then there is the effect of noise on social behavior. The U.S. report “Noise and its effects” (Administrative Conference of the United States, Alice Suter, 1991) says: “Even moderate noise levels can increase anxiety, decrease the incidence of helping behavior, and increase the risk of hostile behavior in experimental subjects. These effects may, to some extent, help explain the “dehumanization” of today’s urban environment.”

Excerpted from a CNN 2010 Opinion article from 10/10/2010 by Julian Treasure, the author of “Sound Business.”

Noise in Hospitals Causing Medical Errors and Threats to Patient Well-Being

The constant sounds of machines, alarms, voices, beepers and telephones are nothing out of the ordinary to people who work in hospitals. Like people in almost any working environment, medical staff members adapt to the constant clamor; over time, the ambient noise becomes a normal part of their work life.

However, these sounds are not normal to patients. In fact, they’re far from normal, and studies show that noise in U.S. hospitals adversely affects patient care directly and indirectly. Noise is not only causing additional stress on the infirm, it is causing serious mistakes to be made by medical staff.

Depending on age, the sharpness of their hearing, medication levels, even their culture and fears, the same sounds that hospital staff take for granted are increasing the stress levels and sleep disturbances in patients. Noise in hospitals has been found to cause confusion among patients, contribute to patient falls, and increased administration of medication and restraint use. Prolonged exposure to the ambient noise that is common to hospitals can increase a patient’s anxiety and ultimately affect the patient’s well-being and safety.

Noise actually decreases patient confidence in the clinical competence of the staff, according to studies on the effects of noise in hospitals.

Compounding the problem, noise-induced stress impacts other patients and visiting family members exponentially.

Sudden noises like a slammed door or dropped tray may trigger the “startle reflex” in patients, resulting in physical responses such as increased heart and respiratory rate, facial grimacing, elevated blood pressure, muscular flexion and vaso-constriction. Patients exposed to noise continuously can experience increased agitation, altered memory, lowered pain tolerance and feelings of isolation. Such environmentally-triggered symptoms are often medicated or otherwise treated in ways unrelated to their cause.

Even more alarming, distracting sounds have been shown to contribute to medical and nursing errors. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) has pinpointed noise as a potential risk factor related to medical and nursing errors, and recommends ambient sound environments never exceed a level that could prohibit clinicians from clearly understanding each other.  In one specific surgical incident, music being played in the operating room was so loud, the surgeon’s directions to the anesthesiologist regarding levels of heparin – a drug used to prevent clots – were misunderstood by 8,000 units. This type of incident takes noise past a mere annoyance level and makes it a significant potential safety risk.

EPA recommended guidelines for continuous background noise in hospitals place acceptable daytime levels at 35 decibels, and 40 decibels at night in patient rooms – the equivalent of a very quiet or whispered conversation.  But studies show that noise levels in most hospitals are much higher. Noise sources are numerous and loud,  and hard surfaces — floors, walls, and ceilings — reflect sound rather than absorb it, causing reverberant sound problems like echo to overlap, linger, and repeat frequently.

While many hospitals are committed to creating a healing environment, the auditory environment, laced with noxious noise, is usually ignored. A healing environment requires both a physical setting conducive to recovery, and an organizational culture that supports patients and families already struggling with stress. The sound environment must be managed in such detail that neither patients nor staff are at risk.

When we talk about managing noise, it is understood that hospitals and other medical facilities cannot be expected to operate in silence.

The EPA defines noise as “any sound that may produce an undesired physiological or psychological effect in an individual or group.” This definition accompanies the decibel scale.  Therefore, it is necessary to determine whether noise in a particular hospital is an issue, and if so, to what degree.

To minimize the potential for noise to impact patients negatively, standards must be set to establish appropriate sound levels, including recommendations for modifying, maintaining, and purchasing equipment. In addition, repair and maintenance policies should be reviewed to incorporate language to address a quieter environment. An auditory impact query should be part of every new construction project as well as every remodel, equipment addition, and staff event.

A recent study by Blomkvist et al. (in press, 2004) examined the effects of poor versus good sound levels and acoustics on coronary intensive-care patients in a large university hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, by periodically changing the ceiling tiles from sound-reflecting to sound-absorbing tiles. When the sound-absorbing ceiling tiles were in place, patients slept better, registered lower sympathetic arousal (which indicates lower stress levels), and reported that nurses gave them better care.

The Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan, experienced a 30 percent reduction in medical errors in one unit after it installed acoustical panels and went to decentralized nurse stations. Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, attributed its improved medication error index on noise abatement measures in its coronary critical care unit.

Noisy hospitals can compromise patient care and recovery. Hospitals must take measures to address sound quality and make noise abatement a priority in health care policy.

Contact Form

Fields marked with an * are required
2017-10-26T14:29:12+00:00