Turn down the noise: Noise pollution is the latest public health threat to Americans
05/19/2020 // Zoey Sky // Views

Studies have proven time and again that air and water pollution are bad for your health. Air pollution has been linked to respiratory diseases, while water pollution affects marine life and also causes waterborne diseases.

But what does the research say about noise pollution?

What causes noise pollution?

You're constantly surrounded by various sounds, like work colleagues talking loudly, and some aren't harmful and others are easy to tune out.

However, noise can affect your health. Whether it's noise from barking dogs, loud music and traffic that all counts as pollution, what matters is how noise impacts your health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines noise pollution as “any unwanted or disturbing sound that reduces your quality of life or disrupts daily activities.”

Findings from a 2014 report published by the National Institutes of Health found that about many Americans have developed the following health conditions due to noise exposure:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Hearing loss
  • Heart disease
  • Increased blood pressure

Poppy Szkiler, the founder and managing director of Quiet Mark, a UK-based global noise-reduction product testing and awards program, explained that noise is an invisible pollutant.

Szkiler also added that while noise can adversely affect your breathing, brain waves and wellbeing, silence can help promote overall wellness. (Related: Science explains why we need silence for better health.)

When does noise become harmful?

Decibels (dB) measure sound intensity. The more intense a sound is, the higher its decibel count.


If it's high enough, a certain decibel is considered noise pollution. For example, long exposure at 85 dB is dangerous. But at 120 dB, even short exposure can do severe damage.

Below are some sounds with their decibel counts:

  • Nearby whispering – 30 dB
  • Refrigerator humming – 40 dB
  • Air conditioner – 60 dB
  • Lawnmower – 80 dB to 85 dB
  • Approaching train – 100 dB
  • Ambulance siren – 120 dB

Tips to prevent noise pollution exposure

Detailed below are simple ways to help lower your exposure to irritating or harmful noises.

At home:

  1. Improve insulation inside your home. Replace ill-fitting doors and windows with those that can block outside noise better. Another option is to use soft furnishings like carpets and draperies that can also help muffle sounds.
  2. When buying appliances like a new fridge or a dishwasher, check for decibel-level claims – many modern products on the market are designed to be quiet.
  3. Track sound with an app. There are smartphone apps, like the one from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, that indicates the decibel levels of sounds to give you an idea of what you’re being exposed to. Calibrate the app before you use it to improve the accuracy of the reading.
  4. Turn down the volume of the TV, radio, or music. If you have to listen to loud music, take frequent breaks to reduce your exposure.
  5. If you use power tools at home, minimize equipment noise by replacing worn, loose or unbalanced machine parts. Check your equipment and keep them properly lubricated and maintained.
  6. Use hearing protection devices like earplugs and earmuffs if you can't avoid loud sounds.
  7. Keep hearing protection within reach. Store your earplugs in your car or in a convenient location in your workshop for easy access.

At public events:

  1. Move or stay far away from the loudest sound-producing source, like loudspeakers or cannons, at college stadiums.
  2. Limit the length of time of your exposure to loud sounds, especially when you're attending outdoor or large events.
  3. Always check signs and information flyers that warn of possible loud noise and the need for hearing protection.
  4. Bring hearing protection devices with you at all times. Keep them in your car or pockets.

Limit your exposure to any noises with high dB levels and listen to music at low to moderate levels to preserve your hearing. For more information on how to prevent noise pollution, visit Pollution.news.

Sources include:



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