By Anita Giles
MS, CCC-A Audiologist
Physicians Hearing Center
The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines noise as unwanted and/or harmful sound. In 1996, the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) established the last Wednesday in April as International Noise Awareness Day (INAD) to raise awareness about the harmful effects of noise on hearing, health, and the quality of life.
What is the concern about unwanted noise? Noise causes stress, which is hazardous to our health. Over time, noise causes hearing loss, which is detrimental to our health and well-being. Research links hearing loss with social isolation, depression, an increased risk of falls, and earlier onset of dementias.
Listen for a moment! Are the sounds around you loud & and bothersome or quiet & peaceful? We are inundated with noise from infancy to adulthood. How do we navigate hearing in noise while avoiding damage to our ear structures and brain hearing? To listen, we must focus on one sound source and filter out the background noise. When the brain is constantly bombarded by noise, it remains “on”, resulting in mental fatigue. The brain’s constant state of alertness dulls our ability to separate speech from the background noise. Stress levels rise, communication decreases and relationships suffer.
Constant meaningless noise is especially detrimental to developing brains. Living in noisy environments interferes with a child’s brain’s ability to detect, recognize, and understand sound, which decreases learning and language acquisition. “On any given day, thousands of students are unable to understand ¼ of the spoken words in classrooms due to poor acoustics” (kanopi InformeDesign Research Desk)
Noise damages hearing. Harmful noise exposure can come from toys, band practice, woodworking, movies, concerts, sporting events, hobbies, lawn equipment, shooting guns, fireworks, noisy restaurants, traffic, etc. The use of headphones/earbuds with Personal Audio Systems (PAS) delivering loud sound directly in the ear will damage hearing. The distance from the hand to the ear is shorter in children so the sound of a toy will be closer and louder to their sensitive ears.
Noise levels can be excessive in homes and buildings. Enemies of “clear” hearing are distance from sound, noise level, and reverberation (echo) of sound. The acoustics or room’s ability to reflect sound waves can make all the difference in how possible or impossible it is to hear what is said. Meaningful communication with friends and family regardless of their level of hearing can be accomplished. Room furnishings should absorb, not reflect sound. Good lighting makes it easier to pick up visual clues. Reduce the volume of the TV/music. Establish quiet zones.
Consider the environment in which you try to communicate. Seek quieter restaurants or eat earlier when there are fewer crowds. Gregory Scott Farber, with significant hearing loss since infancy, has developed a phone app, SoundPrint, to locate restaurants that are easier to communicate in.
With or without hearing loss, it is time to reduce the harm and stress that noise brings into our lives. Indulge in periods of “peace & quiet”. It is a gift for a person with hearing loss to be able to enjoy calm conversation without interference.
Noise hurts. Turn down the volume. Limit time in noise. Protect your hearing. Say “YES” to quiet. Seek hearing loss help.