How to Reduce Noise Pollution
With things like modern transportation, heavy machinery, electronic equipment, and loud enclosed places such as office buildings and bars, we are exposed to more noise pollution today than at any point in human history. Although it often seems like a minor annoyance, the truth is that frequent exposure to these and other similar noises can do serious damage to our health and well-being.
What is noise pollution?
Noise pollution is defined as any unwanted or excessive sound that has harmful effects on human health and environmental quality.1 Although excessive sound is often the culprit, it’s important to note than any unwanted sound can potentially affect our health negatively, no matter how loud.
Think, for example, about someone repeatedly clicking their pen when you are trying to concentrate on something. Although not excessively loud, this type of noise could also be defined as noise pollution if it disrupts another person’s concentration or otherwise causes them irritation.
Although what constitutes noise pollution is somewhat subjective, noise levels can be objectively measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibels, the louder a sound is. To give you a better idea, below are a few decibel measurements of typical environments and machines:
- Whisper – 30 dB
- Normal conversation – 60 dB
- Office noise – 70 dB
- Noisy restaurant, lawn mower – 80-90 dB
- Motorcycle – 100 dB
- Sports crowd, rock concert – 120 dB
- Gun shot – 140 dB2
While sounds that are less than 75 dB are unlikely to cause hearing loss, regular exposure to sounds that are 85 dB and above can cause loss of hearing.3
The health effects of noise pollution
Hearing loss is a major concern when it comes to noise pollution. But no matter how loud, noise pollution can damage our health in a number of other ways. Some of the most common health effects of frequent exposure to noise pollution include:
- High blood pressure
- Impaired cognitive function
- Heart disease
One important thing to be aware of is that noise affects us even when we are asleep. Your ears never rest, and are constantly processing sounds even though you aren’t aware of them. Whether sleeping or awake, continual noise pollution can easily trigger the body’s acute stress response.
In addition to humans, noise pollution is also detrimental to animals. Specifically, one study showed that excessive environmental noise can lead to alterations in gene expression, DNA damage, and changes in cellular processes in animal populations.4
Noise sensitivity issues
Another factor to take into account when it comes to noise pollution is that some people are more sensitive to noise than others. For instance, loud conversation may not bother one person, while it causes significant stress for another person.
In extreme cases, noise sensitivity is so great that it leads to the sufferer isolating themselves from loud environments and withdrawing from society in general. In these cases, the sufferer may perceive quiet noises as loud and moderate noises as downright unbearable. Known as hyperacusis, this condition may develop from overexposure to loud sounds.
5 ways to reduce noise pollution
The negative health effects excessive or unwanted sounds can have on our well-being is leading some experts to believe that noise pollution may be the next big public-health crisis.5 It’s probably safe to say that modern-day noise pollution cannot be stopped and will continue to grow and affect people negatively. However, there are measures we can take to reduce the harmful effects of noise pollution in our lives.
1 – Spend time in silence
Spending time meditating in a quiet place can do wonders for your health, and this includes your ears. Being in a silent environment helps your ears to relax, preventing your stress response from being triggered from noise pollution. Spending time in silence offers a number of physical, physiological, and emotional benefits, including:
- Boosting the immune system
- Promoting good hormone regulation
- Lowering blood pressure
- Increasing creativity
- Increasing awareness
- Improving sleep
Most people have access to a quiet place where they can go for at least a few minutes each day, so make sure to take advantage of this for your ears and your overall health.
2 – Minimize sounds you can control
We can’t control many of the loud noises we are exposed to, but there are certain sounds we do have control over. These include our TV volume, headphone volume, and proximity to loud sounds in certain cases.
To minimize risk of hearing loss and other negative health consequences, make sure that your TV or headphone volume isn’t too loud. Headphones can be especially problematic, as they are associated with a higher risk of hearing loss. If you can’t understand what someone is saying from about an arm’s length away from you, your headphones are too loud.6 This is at a bare minimum, but remember that quieter is always better.
Additionally, you can minimize exposure to loud noises by keeping your distance from them when possible. For example, choose a spot that is further away from the speakers at a concert, and avoid noisy activities and places when possible. If you do have to be in a noisy environment, take breaks away from the source of the noise.
3 – Wear hearing protection
Hearing protection is essential if you work in a noisy environment, such as a construction site, a factory, or an airport. But hearing protection is often needed in a variety of other everyday environments as well.
Noise-canceling headphones are a lower-profile alternative to industrial ear protection, and these are often used in noisy urban areas, loud office environments, and more. Simply putting on these headphones or turning on the noise-cancellation function may be enough to sufficiently block out the loud noises around you. Of course, you may also choose to listen to music, soothing nature sounds, or white noise to further block out noise pollution.
There are many varieties of noise-canceling earphones. Some of these are passive, which simply insulate the ear from external noise. Others use active noise-canceling, which generates a waveform to “cancel out” ambient sound.
Ear plugs are another lower profile alternative to noise-canceling headphones or industrial ear protection. When using these, you should avoid pushing them in as far as they will go, as doing this can damage your eardrum. Excessive use of ear plugs may cause earwax buildup or an ear infection, so make sure to use ear drops to loosen and extract the wax or have your doctor remove it if it begins to build up.
4 – Make noise-reducing home improvements
There are a variety of things you can do to reduce noise pollution in and around your home. First, barriers outside the home such as fences and trees can reduce the amount of noise coming into your yard or home.
Inside, you can do a number of things to reduce noise pollution, including:
- Installing carpeting, vinyl, or rugs
- Placing furniture such as couches and bookshelves next to walls
- Covering windows with heavy drapes
- Installing noise-reducing insulation and glass
- Installing acoustic foam panels
To further mask noise pollution in the home, consider running a fan or a white noise machine. A strategically placed water feature can also effectively block unwanted noise.
5 – Become a noise pollution advocate
If noise pollution is a serious concern for you, you can become an advocate for reducing noise in your community. First, become aware of the noise pollution laws in your area. You can visit the Health and Environmental Agency website for your state or territory to learn more about noise laws and regulations where you live. The EPA noise pollution Web page also provides additional resources such as local noise pollution programs and a law library with proposed noise legislation.
Once you know the noise pollution regulations in your area, you can ensure that neighbors and other entities in your community know the rules and are abiding by them. If necessary, you can file a complaint to the local authorities if someone around you is breaking the rules. And if you feel strongly that your local noise laws should be amended, reach out to a city counselor or your state representative.
In addition to advocating on a legal level, you can become a noise pollution advocate by raising awareness in your circle of influence. Many people are not aware of the damage that loud or unwanted noise can cause to our hearing and overall health. Inform your family, friends, and colleagues that noise pollution is a serious health issue with serious consequences, and get them committed to your cause.
Treatment for noise sensitivity
Lastly, if you are extremely sensitive to everyday noises such as car engines or loud conversations and the above tips don’t seem to help, make an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat doctor to see if you have hyperacusis. This ailment can be treated through sound desensitization, which involves listening to very quiet sounds for a certain period of time each day and gradually building up to louder sounds.
Other treatments that may help with hyperacusis include acupuncture and an experimental treatment called auditory integration therapy (AIT). Anxiety medications or other medications may also be recommended along with these treatments.
Whether you suffer from sound sensitivity or have symptoms that are associated with noise pollution, remember that a healthy diet and lifestyle can go a long way in helping you deal with excessive or unwanted sounds. A ZYTO scan can help determine which nutritional supplements, oils, and lifestyle options your body prefers so you can better deal with the potential harmful effects of noise pollution, as well as other health challenges.
1. Nathanson, J.A., & R.E. Berg. “Noise Pollution.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Britannica.com.
2. “Harmful Noise Levels.” Government of Alberta. Myhealth.alberta.ca.
3. “Decibels & Damage.” HEARsmart. Hearsmart.org.
4. Kight, C.R., & J.P. Swaddle. “How and why environmental noise impacts animals: an integrative, mechanistic review.” Ecology Letters 14 (2011): 1052-1061.
5. Owen, David. “Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public-Health Crisis?” Conde Nast. Newyorker.com.
6. Howland, Jason. “Mayo Clinic Minute: Are your headphones too loud?” Mayo Clinic. Newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org.