“Noise kills”: what you need to know about noise pollution

Earlier we talked about white noise, which helps to fall asleep, concentrate and relax.

Today we are talking about the harmful manifestations of the noise that surrounds us in everyday life: how excessively loud sounds affect human health and how to minimize harm.


Photo by Rafael Leão / Unsplash

The world is getting louder

The volume of the sound background in cities is growing at 0.5−1 dB per year. This is partly due to an increase in the number of noise sources, in particular vehicles. This is one of the most serious sources of noise pollution. So, the "volume" of the car exceeds 70 dB, and the railroad – 100 dB.

The situation is worse in areas near airports. There, the noise level reaches 140 dB. For example, if you work in Moscow, you are most likely exposed to noise of 63–64 dB daily. The city ranks eleventh in the ranking of the noisiest cities in the world.

But the noise can not hide in remote corners of the planet. So, in the fjords of Alaska and Antarctica, the average noise level now exceeds 100 dB. It’s all about global warming. Millions of bubbles are hidden in glaciers. Icebergs melt, and air comes out under high pressure. This sound is so strong that it will already affect the behavior of marine mammals.

Why is it important

The most comfortable level of “sound context” is 20-30 dB (as in a quiet park). If it reaches 40-42 dB, a person may feel a deterioration in sleep quality. According to WHO, more serious negative effects on health are manifested at a noise level of 53 dB: chronic stress occurs, which provokes cardiovascular disease, diabetes and strokes.

According to scientists, the countries of Europe annually lose 61 thousand man-years due to heart diseases caused only by noise pollution. The fact is that excessive noise increases the level of adrenaline and cortisol – stress hormones – and affects our ability to sleep and learn. About how sleep affects endurance, we wrote a separate habratopik.

In addition, high noise levels have a significant impact on mental health and can cause depression and anxiety disorder. These diseases, in turn, can provoke people to extreme actions – including killing. For example, a man in Pennsylvania cracked down on neighbors who were noisy for a long time and prevented him from sleeping.


Photo Oleg Laptev / Unsplash

By the way, sound itself has long been used as a weapon. For example, during the war in Afghanistan, American soldiers used trucks with musical installations. They included Metallica and Thin Lizzy songs at painful volume levels to neutralize opponents. And in general, tinnitus, usually caused by hearing damage due to shell shock, is the main complaint of soldiers returning from military operations.

Background noise can also interfere with the proper growth and development of the brain in children. Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and lecturer at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, notes that the intelligence of children living near airports is lower on average than peers. He described his scientific work in the book "Plasticity of the brain."

What to do with it

In urban environments, completely shielding oneself from ambient noise can be problematic. However, you can seriously reduce its effect on the body. You can check whether you need to take any action using special sound level meter applications. If the noise level exceeds 50 dB, it makes sense to install noise isolation, although this is not a cheap pleasure. Doctors also recommend regular use of earplugs – especially if the windows of your house face the road or you have very “loud” neighbors.


Photo by chairulfajar_ / Unsplash

Also, technologies are increasingly appearing that can protect an apartment from street noise. For example, engineers from Nanyang University of Technology have developed an active noise canceling system for windows. The microprocessor analyzes the sounds captured by the microphone matrix, determines the target ones and makes a command for the counter-wave generator. As a result, the sound entering the room becomes deaf and not annoying. Perhaps in the future such systems will be able to cut off the noise completely. There are already isolation methods blocking up to 94% of sounds.

It is important to observe “acoustic hygiene” on your own, especially when listening to loud music with headphones. It can also cause irreparable damage to our hearing. Doctors recommend using the 60/60 rule: listen to music on headphones at 60% volume for no more than an hour in a row.

This approach will protect yourself from negative consequences. It is also worth remembering that the more often you are exposed to noise, the less sensitive you become to it. Therefore, you should pay attention to this and monitor your well-being – from time to time to monitor the sound level at home and at work.


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For example, the Audio-Technica ATH-AR5BT wireless headphones for 9,990 rubles.


What to read in our "Hi-Fi World":

What gadgets will help reduce ambient noise and “catch” the concentration
Sleep, relaxation and music: how professional athletes overcome fatigue
What noise helps to relax, and yet – prevents hearing loss in severe accidents
Like the crack of a fire, the creaking of doors and the most ordinary noise become music
Earth Rumble: conspiracy theories and possible explanations
Soundproofing method, damping up to 94% of noise – tell how it works
Musical anhedonia, or not everyone likes music


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