Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Winter 2009
Now Hear This!
|A shrieking car alarm wakes you early in the morning, a neighbor’s leaf blower drones in the background while you’re trying to enjoy a little family time in the backyard and highway traffic hums all around you as you head to work. For many of us such sounds are an annoying but unavoidable part of everyday life. Unfortunately, these noise nuisances can actually be bad for our health. In fact, the World Health Organization views noise pollution as a major concern and encourages communities and lawmakers to take action to cut down on noise.|
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
Hearing damage is the most obvious threat of noise pollution. Sounds measured at 85 decibels or higher (which includes most lawn mowers and hair dryers) can put you and your family at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, a condition that affects as many as 22 million Americans between ages 20 and 69, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
To put those 85 decibels into perspective, consider that a family’s normal conversation around the dinner table is about 60 decibels, while fireworks crackle at 140 decibels or more.
It’s the combination of the loudness and duration of a noise that can add up to hearing loss. “It’s OK to be around moderately loud sounds for a short duration,” says Deanna Meinke, Ph.D., associate professor of audiology at the University of Northern Colorado College of Natural and Health Sciences in Greeley and president of the National Hearing Conservation Association. “For instance, the allowable time for sound exposure at 85 decibels is eight hours. For 91 decibels, it’s just two hours.”
Exposing your ears to loud noise over a long time period can damage them; so can sudden, intense sounds such as an explosion. Either way, the harm to your ears, while preventable, is not reversible.
|OTHER HEALTH HAZARDS|
Besides taking a toll on your ears, noise can wreak havoc on your sleep, interfere with digestion, raise your blood pressure and negatively impact your quality of life.
A study published in Archives of Environmental Health (August 2004) looked at the effect of noise on workers at an auto assembly plant. “We found that as noise levels went up, blood pressure increased,” says the study’s lead author, Sally Lusk, Ph.D., R.N., professor emerita of the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor.
Even while you’re asleep your blood pressure can be affected by noise (European Heart Journal, 2008). Researchers studied people as they slept in their homes near airports. Their conclusion: Participants experienced an increase in blood pressure following a noise louder than just 35 decibels—for instance, traffic outside, an aircraft flying overhead or a partner snoring—even if the noise didn’t wake them. The louder the noise, the more the participants’ blood pressure jumped. This can have serious health implications. “We know that with an increase in blood pressure, there is an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke,” notes Lusk.
It’s important to understand that sounds don’t have to be high on the decibel scale to produce an adverse effect. Any noise that bothers you—whether it’s the clicking of high heels on an uncarpeted floor or the maddening drip of a leaky faucet—can have a physiological impact. “When we get stressed, our systems react. Our heart beats faster, our pulse rate increases, we start breathing faster and our digestion slows,” explains psychologist Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., a noise expert and volunteer member of the Council on the Environment of New York City. Noise can also rob you of much-needed shut-eye. “Studies show that noise can knock us out of the deep sleep that’s necessary for mending the body,” she says.
Finally, there’s the toll noise takes on your family’s quality of life. “If noise prevents you from enjoying your backyard or interrupts your reading, you may not be sick yet but you don’t have a good quality of life,” says Bronzaft. “A healthy lifestyle means less noise in our lives.”
To find an audiologist, visit the American Academy of Audiology at audiology.org. Under Consumer Quick Links, click on Find an Audiologist.
To reduce your noise exposure, follow these tips:
Children and Teens
- Don’t buy noisy toys for your children. Kids can be particularly vulnerable to hearing damage because they tend to hold toys close to their ears.
- Teach your children and teens to use headphones and earbuds correctly. If you can hear the tune from just 3 feet away, it’s time for the kids to crank down the sound.
- Require children and teens to wear hearing protection when in a situation where loud noises are the norm: video arcades, music concerts, playing in a band and some sporting events, movies and part-time jobs.
- Shop for quieter products. Look for a noise rating when purchasing tools, household appliances and recreational equipment.
- Turn down the volume on the TV, radio and stereo. A rule of thumb: If you can’t hear someone talking 3 feet away from you, the noise in the environment is too loud.
- Wear earplugs when you ride a motorcycle or attend a concert or loud sporting event such as auto racing. Do the same if your profession exposes you to high noise levels.
- Read up on your local noise ordinances and find out what you can do in your community to be a crusader for quiet.
- Enforce quiet time. “Take rest periods from loud sounds to give your ears a chance to recover,” suggests Deanna Meinke, Ph.D., president of the National Hearing Conservation Association.
- Have your hearing checked regularly by an audiologist and have your kids tested, too. “This is the only way to detect early-onset noise-induced hearing loss and make changes to prevent further deterioration,” says Meinke.