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The modern unseen plague: noise pollution

June 9, 2012
By C. Paul Martin, M.D. , Marshall Independent

In the experience of human illness, some maladies present themselves with a screaming announcement; others creep quietly in us, showing themselves after years of quiet destruction.

Such illnesses as cancer, heart disease, kidney problems and glaucoma seem to appear in the twilight of our lives; other chronic illnesses develop on the basis of long existing subtle pathology such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and noise pollution (hearing trauma). We meet them with surprise when they come into our lives. Today's column is another warning about high blood pressure and a renewed notice about noise pollution (NP).

Our modern world is filled with sounds; even those of us living in rural areas are exposed to noise and resultant noise pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) has "sounded the

drum" about the dangers of noise pollution: "Excessive noise (noise pollution) seriously harms human health and interferes with people's daily activities at school, at work, at home, and during leisure time."

The effects of NP, usually defined as prolonged exposure to sounds of 80 decibels or greater, is associated with a number of health conditions, namely, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sleep disturbances, cardiovascular problems, pain and fatigue, poor work and school performance, speech problems, and hormonal responses and their consequences on human metabolism and immune system changes.

Do you recognize noise pollution in your life? As stated above, NP is those sounds of a volume of 80 decibels or greater. The average speaking voice is 20-60 decibels; a radio or television emits sounds of 80 decibels, a noisy office or home appliance often has 90+ decibels, a passing truck , car horn, or your noisy lawn mower can easily provide 100 decibels of noise, and a "rock band" has been associated with 120 decibels! An unusual experience for most of us would be exposure to an aircraft at take-off and its 180 decibels of noisethat hurts!

Prophylactic hearing protection can prevent up to one-third of all hearing loss!

What can we do to preserve our hearing?

We need to know which noises can cause damage (NP) and where they are in our environment. If you have to raise your voice to shout over the noise to be heard by someone within an arm's length away, the noise level is in the dangerous range. Educate yourself about the sources of NP.

Since loud music and related sounds do cause hearing harm, adjust the levels of sound in your areas or try to avoid them. Most importantly, wear hearing protection when exposed to sources of NP, especially on your job or when mowing the lawn or working in your home shop. The most protective devices should be Hearing protective devices (HPD) labeled with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Most of these devices are in the form of earmuffs to be worn during these activities such as mowing the lawn. During musical events, one might be able to use less visible devices.

It is generally felt that hearing is our most valuable sense. Both blind persons and deaf individuals usually report that they would rather be sightless than deaf. Although most of us gradually lose a portion of our hearing, usually in the high frequency ranges, as we age, modern society and our medical care system have permitted our population to generally preserve its hearing abilities.

Let us hope that preventive measures such as described will allow us to retain as much hearing ability as we can in our modern world.



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