Sounds can bring us to calm such as the sound of the wind blowing through the trees or the crashing of ocean waves. They can also release endorphins such as when we listen to our favorite song. However, when sounds become too loud, they can not only stress us out but damage our hearing. This October is Protect Your Hearing Month, a national campaign led by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) to raise awareness around the importance of protecting your hearing and the best strategies to do so.

 

Noise Pollution and Hearing Loss

You may be used to the sounds of noise in your life but that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting your health. When sounds reach past a certain threshold, they start to damage your ears, leaving you with permanent damage. It is not just the volume of the sound, but the length of exposure. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), estimates that 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels regularly. This is an increase of 10 million from just a few years ago, meaning that noise pollution is steadily becoming a more serious issue. Often seen as an unseen plague, noise pollution is certainly not unheard, as it threatens our hearing and wellbeing.

 

The Effects of Hearing Loss

When our hearing becomes damaged, it is not always noticeable at first. It may show up as the loss of certain tones, pitches, or consonants. This means that parts of words or sentences will go missing during conversation and leaves our brain with the daunting task of filling in the blanks. Ultimately hearing loss affects how willing we are to engage in social activity, which in turn affects the quality of our relationships. People who suffer from hearing loss for years, often also suffer from depression, anxiety, and chronic loneliness. It can also contribute to cognitive decline due to the stress on the brain which can increase our risk of developing dementia exponentially. 

 

Stress Caused by Noise Pollution

Our world is growing louder and louder every day, with more construction, traffic, media, and industry. When the sound is too loud it can damage our hearing, but it can also cause us stress. Excessive levels of noise trigger a stress response in the amygdala, which is a region of the brainstem that responds to sounds that could be potential sources of danger. When a sound signifies a stressor such as unwanted noise, the amygdala triggers a release of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that affects us in many ways such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced metabolism with a decrease in gastrointestinal activity. 

 

It may be reasonable to suspect that people with reduced hearing ability are less sensitive to the stressful effects of noise. Unfortunately, hearing loss does not offer a respite. Less hearing doesn’t mean higher noise tolerance Research on noise sensitivity and whether it correlates with a person’s audiogram shows that there are no differences in noise sensitivity between those with a normal threshold of hearing and those with hearing loss as recorded on standard hearing exams.

Health effects of noise pollution

Besides hearing loss, noise pollution threatens our health by increasing our stress levels. It’s okay to be exposed to loud noise now and then but when it causes chronic stress it can interfere with sleep, cause you to struggle to focus and increase the likeliness of cardiovascular disease, endocrine effects, and diabetes.

Protecting Your Hearing

When you can’t avoid a sound, you can always wear hearing protection. Earplugs and protective headphones can reduce the impact of sound to the point where they won’t cause ear protection. It is up to you to find out where you are exposed to excessive noise and wear your hearing protection regularly. In addition, if you live in a noisy area, there are things you can do within your own home to lower the sounds. Using carpeting and curtains you can absorb sound and lower the decibel levels in your living space. 

 

If you have experienced changes in your hearing, we’re here to help! This October, schedule a hearing exam and find out what we can do for your hearing.

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