Noise pollution as a health risk
Are you aware of the noise levels surrounding you on a daily basis? If you’re unsure of the answer, you’re not alone. Most of us accept the noises of our environment as part of our everyday lives. But for those of us who live in big cities or work in loud environments, it is worth understanding the risks and assessing whether we can make changes in our everyday lives to protect our hearing.
According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), noise pollution causes hearing loss, cognitive impairment, stress, depression, and cardiovascular problems1. While 85 decibels is generally accepted as the highest level of “safe” exposure, noises above 60 decibels have been linked with an increased risk for heart disease. Since the risks of environmental noise are not broadly understood by the general public, policymakers, and practitioners, noise pollution is not typically something we think of as a health risk. It’s therefore necessary to educate yourself to understand the health implications2.
Noise pollution in cities around the world
Noise pollution (or excessively high sound levels) in cities is typically caused by constant traffic, loud sirens, honking horns, and construction work. Big cities around the globe create noise 24 hours a day, which can result in high levels of stress for its inhabitants. In New York city alone, 200,000 noise complaints were filed in 2016. Meanwhile in London, the noise levels of the London Underground can reach up to 105 decibels.
The World Hearing Index, created by Mimi Hearing Technologies, combines data from 200,000 hearing tests with data from the WHO and Sintef to create a World Hearing Index for 50 cities. The study found that Guangzhou, China has the highest incidence of noise pollution and Zurich, Switzerland has the lowest. Also included in the top 5 are Delhi, Cairo, Mumbai, and Istanbul. The cities included in the top 25 noisiest cities include: Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, London, and San Francisco. The same study found that, on average, those who live in cities have a hearing loss equivalent to someone 10-20 years older than them. See the full list here3.
To further confirm the link between noise pollution and hearing health, the study also found a 64% positive correlation between hearing loss and noise pollution in cities4. If you live in a big city or noisy environment and suspect you may have hearing loss, it is worth considering if a quieter living environment is available to you. This can both be achieved by moving to a quieter part of town – or even moving out of the city all together. If moving is not an option for you, consider investing in some noise cancelling earplugs which help to reduce the level of sound you are exposed to. A popular style of earplugs made for this purpose are “high fidelity” earplugs. High fidelity earplugs preserve the original sound quality while lowering the sound level5. Check out a pair of high fidelity earplugs here.
The noisiest jobs
Our jobs are an integral part of our daily lives, but some jobs are more taxing on our hearing health than others. One of the loudest working environments is that of the airport ground staff. Standing on the tarmac next to an airplane for a full workday means that these employees are subjected to sound levels at about 140db, which is significantly higher than the recommended maximum of 85db. Miners and construction workers are exposed to sound levels of up to 120db. Research shows that 4 in 10 musicians have some degree of hearing loss and are exposed to an average sound level of about 115db during concerts6. Other professionals which are exposed to unhealthy sound levels include: military personnel, construction workers, railway workers, bartenders, factory workers, and truck drivers78910.
The single most effective thing at-risk employees can do is to educate themselves about how to limit their exposure to potentially harmful sound levels. As noted above, using noise cancelling earplugs is an effective way to lower the level of sound you are exposed to. Make it a habit to bring earplugs along whenever you suspect that you may be entering a noisy environment.
Read more on how to care for your hearing here.
Our living and working environments could potentially be putting us at risk for being exposed to high levels of noise pollution, which in turn can put us at risk for hearing loss. With a 64% positive correlation between hearing loss and noise pollution in cities, there is reason to pay attention to the potential risks of living in a big city environment. Additionally, working within certain professions exposes us to unhealthy sound levels for long periods at a time. At-risk employees include airport ground staff, miners, and builders. If you live or work in a noisy environment, consider ways in which you can minimize your noise exposure, and invest in a pair of noise cancelling earplugs, which can aid in significantly decreasing the level of noise which you are exposed to.
If you think you may need to have your hearing checked due to loud noise exposure, book a free hearing test with your local participating clinic here.