I’m that guy that wears hearing protection when he runs his blender. The guy who used to put in ear plugs when using an electric shaver. The guy who rarely uses headphones. The guy who wants to soundproof his bedroom. The guy that gets upset when loud cars go down the road and interrupt conversations. And the guy who stays away from the speakers at parties and speaking events. I’m a little weird. But, I’m protecting myself against a growing, “silent” killer. Noise pollution.

How is Noise Affecting Us?

Many people correlate hearing loss with old age. And while there may be a loose link between the two, hearing loss is generally caused by abuse and overuse. An interesting study to support this was performed on populations of indigenous people who live their whole lives with very little background noise. What that study found was that many of the elderly people could hear just as well as infants. That’s in stark contrast to what we see in America where 15% of the entire population suffers from hearing loss. 33% of people over 65 suffer and 66% of people over 75. And, another 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus which is a constant ringing in the ears.

And while many people understand that noise is the leading cause of hearing loss, many people don’t understand all of the other side effects. When sleeping, our mind and body shut down to help us recover. But, noises like cars driving by, airplanes flying overhead and loud neighbors can and usually wake us as we instinctively respond to potential danger. The thing is, most of the time we don’t fully wake up. So, we don’t consciously know or remember every time that noise has interrupted our sleep. That can make it difficult to correct the issue since most of us are unaware of it. It’s only when monitoring sleep patterns in a lab, that you can really track the significantly decreased quality of sleep caused by background noise. And when the quality of our sleep decreases, our blood pressure remains higher, and our regenerative sleep processes are restricted.

Another side effect is the degradation of communication. If you’ve ever been in a loud restaurant or event venue, it’s hard to communicate with someone even if they’re standing next to you. This causes you to speak louder, thus amplifying the problem even more. Another interesting study was performed on schools. Schools in noisier areas tend to have students with lower grades than schools in quieter areas. Even more interesting, a study was conducted on one school in particular. They studied GPA’s of students who had classes on one side of the school where a train would frequently pass, versus students who had classes on the other side of the school which tended to be much quieter. The students in the quieter areas of the school tended to have higher GPA’s. This is likely because it’s harder for students to hear what the teaching is discussing with the louder environment causing degradation of communication.

Lastly, when we’re exposed to a loud environment, our body releases cortisol which is commonly known as the stress hormone. These stress hormones change the composition of our blood, affect blood vessels, and even change our mood and stress levels. Long term exposure to these loud environments are also shown to increase our rate of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke. It’s no coincidence that we tend to feel more at peace in quiet environments.

How is Noise Affecting Me?

Oddly enough, I started planning and writing this post yesterday (Tuesday the 13th). And last night, I recall waking up two separate times to a beeping noise that sounded eerily familiar to my alarm clock. The first time I woke up, I was barely awake, I can’t really recall what happened, but I think I just fell back asleep as the beeping noise seemed to disappear. The second time, I was definitely awake. I walked over to my phone because I thought it was my alarm. It turned out to be a snow plow outside my apartment just backing up at 1:30 AM. How frustrating is it that not only me, but probably everyone in the surrounding apartments is suffering from significantly lower sleep quality due to external noise that we can’t easily control?

My apartment is also next to a parking garage which I should of thought about before moving in. Because people forget where they park. And they sound off their alarm to help them find it. Not surprisingly, I hear these alarms every time they go off. I’ve actually measured the number of times this happens during busy hours and it occurs about every 20 minutes. How frustrating is it for conversations, TV shows, podcasts and more to be interrupted every 20 minutes because of a car alarm outside my apartment?

I went to two weddings this summer/fall, both great weddings that I’m glad I got invited to, but both that had extremely loud music. At one of the weddings, my grandma who has hearing aids couldn’t communicate with anyone even at her own table because of the loud noise. She even said the loud music was causing her hearing aids to go berserk which hurt her ears. And if you wanted to dance at either wedding, that’s where the speakers were located. I did end up dancing at both parties, but was agitated at both due to the volume. That led to a ringing in my hears for the rest of the night, even after the sound was gone. After further research, I found out that these occurrences alone (which cause ringing after the sound has disappeared) cause permanent damage to your hearing. How frustrating is it to choose enjoying the wedding dance floor with your family but also causing permanent damage to your hearing?

It’s very frustrating. But there are things being done, and there are things you can do.

What’s Currently Being Done

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has implemented a number of laws limiting noise exposure in the workplace. Noise is often measured in decibels (dB) and OSHA has put limits on how long we can be exposed to noise based on the decibels recorded. For example, if noise is recorded at 90 dB or higher then hearing protection is required. This is the typical level of noise experienced 3 feet away from a garbage disposal or blender. Also, OSHA limits workers from experiencing noise at 105 dB for just one hour per day with hearing protection. For comparison, a typical concert lasts nearly 3 hours and records noise consistently around 105 dB. So for every concert you experience like this, you’re causing permanent hearing damage. Although OSHA has done a lot to help limit our noise exposure in the workplace, we need to do more to limit our noise exposure in our personal time.

Apple has recently placed a big emphasis on hearing health as well. Their Apple watches now come with an app that not only measures your environment’s noise in decibels, but also alerts you when noise around you is too loud for too long. I’ve setup these alerts on my Apple watch and started getting notified whenever I use my blender. I guess I was onto something for wearing hearing protection in the kitchen!

Although, there is progress being made to limit noise exposure in the workplace, and to monitor noise levels in your personal time, there’s not a whole lot of other things being done to help protect you, your hearing, and your stress levels in the near future. Yes, I do recognize that many city planners, architects, and politicians are aware and working on noise pollution, but these efforts may take a while to implement. Instead of waiting for help, I recommend taking action to help save your hearing before it’s too late.

How to Turn it Down

Here are a few tips I recommend to help turn down the volume, lower your stress, and save your hearing.

  • Wear Hearing Protection: This one is simple but obvious. Anytime you know you’ll be experiencing loud noise, wear hearing protection. I have safety ear muffs (link here) that I love and use every time I run my blender. I also use these when I mow the lawn, run the leaf blower, and have to be in the presence of my sister’s dog that won’t stop barking. I also have ear plugs (link here) that I like to wear when I want something more portable for events. I even think I’m going to start carrying around a pair with me, maybe in my backpack, for unpredictable situations too. You never know when noise is going to take over.
  • Listen At Lower Volumes: Listening to your TV, music, podcasts or radio at a lower volume can help too. Your ears quickly adjust to volume which is a good and bad thing. If the volume is too loud, we aren’t always aware of it because our ears adjust even though it’s affecting us negatively. But if we turn the volume down, our ears adjusts in a similar fashion. So, try listening to sounds at a lower volume. You’ll get use to it.
  • Turn Off The Volume: Are you the type of person that always has background noise playing? Like a TV show or music just playing in the background to disturb the silence? Try turning it off and experiencing silence. Not only is it healthy for your hearing, but you may find a stillness or calmness that’s very stress relieving. You may also find more mental clarity and focus. More and more I’ve been trying to blog, read, and relax in silence rather than playing background noise just for background noise.
  • Monitor Noise Levels: One of the most difficult problems with protecting your hearing, is actually being aware of when you’re damaging it. Try using an app like the NIOSH Sound Level Meter to do a quick check of noise levels every so often. Check the typical noise level of your bedroom at night, or your work space during the day. Try to identify dangerous noise exposure. And, if you have an Apple Watch, turn on noise notifications. With this feature, your Apple Watch will continuously monitor for harmful noise environments and then notify you. I’ve liked this feature because it’s helped me identify loud situations which wouldn’t have otherwise crossed my mind like vacuuming.
  • Avoid the Noise: The best and sometimes hardest solution is avoiding noise altogether. If you’re selecting a location to live, choose a quiet area where your bedroom is on the opposite side of the road. If you don’t have that luxury, look into buying soundproof windows, curtains, or doors. If your electric shaver is loud, look into a manual shaver. If your leaf blower is loud, try raking. A lot of these solutions require more time, money or effort but can provide a number of long-term health benefits.

While these are just a few ways to lower your noise exposure, there are a number of other ways too like using noise cancelling headphones, installing acoustic panels, and submitting noise complaints.

Final Thoughts

After learning so much about hearing health, and the effects of noise exposure, I don’t feel as weird as I did before about wearing headphones when using my blender or wanting to soundproof my bedroom. But I may still look it. So if you want to hear fine in your 60s, 70s and beyond, lower your stress levels and improve the quality of your sleep, try turning the volume down. Try finding peace in the silence.

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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe

Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient and effective. I do this by covering topics like Cognitive Health, Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Financial Independence and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.


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