Earth is now an echo chamber, where all kinds of sounds coalesce and collide, creating what we call noise. In noise we live each moment, as it kills us in ways we don’t know. However, we just shrug off clatter of machines, deafening buzz of aircraft overhead or the babbling hoot of vehicles.
Even music today gets tiringly noisy, what with disharmony unfurling its hood at its heart. More than making us uneasy, noise pollution put us out on health front, leading to hearing loss, and other health conditions including increased heart rate, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, migraine, disrupted sleep, muscle tension, poor cognitive function, impaired concentration and poor learning skills. The list might go endless. Exposure to deafening noise, even for a few minutes, could cause stress, anxiety, and emotional disorders.
There is no peace in the world, it seems. Each day our ears take in varying levels of noise—be it a rickety mixer or grinder at home, vehicles in the street, growl of machines at work place or even the muffled hum of an air conditioner, they all add to noise we listen to each day. Most people don’t know how harmful noise is, or they just take it for granted.
They think it is okay to be in the vicinity of a growling machine. The biggest health hazard from noise pollution is hearing loss.
The inner ear has a snail-shaped structure called cochlea, which is lined with numerous tiny hairs.These hairs move back and forth when sound enters the cochlea; they function well only in moderate sounds levels. When heavy sounds enter the ear, the tiny hairs get flattened and damaged, leading to hearing loss.
How much is too much noise? You may be asking. Sound is measured in decibels (dB), starting from zero indicating the quietest sound humans can hear.
One study has measured sounds in a quiet library at 30 dB, usual conversation takes place between 50-60dB, sound rate of busy traffic or a noisy restaurant might hover at 70 dB, and growl at factory may be at 80dB.
Remember your stereo head phones could be booming at 100 dB. Even brief exposure to more than 110dB could damage ears immediately. More than 85 dB sounds can damage ears over time. We have created a “sound hell” for animals as well. Increasing noise pollution affects animals mentally and physically. For example, intolerable noise levels, says a study, decrease milk production in cows, and in chicken it leads to major drop in egg production and stunted growth.
This is especially so in the case of underwater animals like whales and dolphins, who bear the brunt of heavy noise from submarines and ships.
It is time we tamped down noise we produce to a healthy level. Given today’s round-the-clock exposure to plugged-in music, increasing vehicle populations, and clatter of towns and cities, it is an ambitious task. Each of us can at least hone in on the noise we produce and try to manage things quietly, for silence is golden.