Noise is a Public Health Issue

Noise is bad for your hearing. This will not be a surprise to anyone.

But this week the American Public Health Association made it official.  “Noise is not just a nuisance,” an APHA statement said, “It’s a growing public health hazard and action is long overdue.” Noise was a focus at this year’s annual APHA meeting, which noted that “environmental noise” in particular affects health well beyond hearing loss.noise11

APHA cited everyday sources of noise, like leaf-blowers, construction, and loud music — as well as the widespread use of personal listening devices, which are often turned up dangerously loud. They noted findings that noise is associated with a host of associated health issues: dementia, heart disease, diabetes, sleep disruption, and obesity. (It’s important to remember that “associated with” does not mean “caused by.”)

Comparing environmental noise to second hand smoke, the group urged updating and acting on a 2013 APHA noise policy statement that advocated federal action. Dr. Daniel Fink, founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, a Quiet Communities Inc. program, also urged a change in terminology, making it more like that used by engineers and physicists. The change is from “unwanted noise” to “unwanted and/or harmful sound.”

This week’s announcement also noted that the way we measure sound now does not necessarily reflect the real-world impact of noise on health and communities. Low-frequency components in landscape, construction, and air traffic noise may vary from one instance to the next. Dr. Jamie Banks, executive director of Quiet Communities, Inc, noted that harmful noise from a gas-powered leaf blower carries a longer distance than that from a battery electric blower even though both are rated at the same decibel level. “We have the technology to better understand the noise characteristics that impact health and community,” Dr. Banks said. “It’s time to employ it.”

 Dr. Arline Bronzaft, a City University of New York professor emerita, has been making the case against urban noise for decades.  She urged APHA members to renew support for the organization’s noise control policy published in 2013.  “The evidence on noise as a public health hazard was convincing 40 years ago,” Dr. Bronzaft said. “Now, despite even stronger evidence linking noise to adverse effects on hearing, the cardiovascular system, metabolism, and psychological health, learning, and cognition, we are not moving forward aggressively enough to reduce the many sources of noise pollution in our communities.”

Two years ago in a column called “Turn Down the Noise,” I wrote about the findings from a poll conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Forty-one percent of those polled said they were concerned that exposure to loud noise may have harmed their hearing. More than 50 percent said they worry that future noise exposure could be harmful to their hearing.

We know noise is bad for our hearing. We have to make a commitment to do something about it.

For more about living with hearing loss, read  Smart Hearing, available at Amazon.com, or Shouting Won’t Help, available at Amazon and other booksellers. 

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Turn Down the Noise!

A new national survey of adults shows that people in all age groups, from millennials to seniors, think that public spaces are too loud. Here’s a link to the study. And here’s a quick graphic version.

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Forty-one percent of those polled said they were concerned that exposure to loud noise may have harmed their hearing. More than 50 percent said they worry that future noise exposure could be harmful to their hearing.

The survey, which was conducted by Crux Research for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, polled 1,007 people ages 18 to 70+. The largest percentage of participants were in the 18-24 and 70+ age groups.

Crotchety seniors who object to noise volume are the stereotype, but this new study found that dissatisfaction with the noise levels was highest in 18 to 29-year-olds. More than half of that group, however, said they found noisy environments more energetic or fun. Only 26 percent of the oldest participants agreed with that assessment..

The biggest culprits in terms of noise are live concerts (33 percent said they have not gone to concerts because of the noise level or have gone but the noise bothered them), bars or clubs (35 percent), sports events in a large stadium (27 percent), restaurants (25 percent) and movie theaters (21 percent).

The good news is that respondents across the board valued their hearing. More than 80 percent of those polled said their hearing status was extremely or very important. Almost three-quarters of 18 to 29 years olds answered that their hearing was important. A majority reported taking at least one step (moving away from speakers at a concert, using earplugs) to limit their noise exposure.

The survey did not ask about hearing aid use, but other studies show that despite this apparent awareness of hearing damage people are still not wearing hearing aids.

The survey was commissioned for Better Hearing and Speech Month, which is May.