Noise: A Silent Killer?

Think about it.  Everyday we face a plethora of noises:  from traffic noise, aircraft, police sirens, jackhammers, elevator bells, car alarms, phones, message alerts, noise in the subway, noise on the train, music blaring, TV’s in restaurants, loud neighbors and the list goes on and on.  Recent studies have shown that noise can affect not only a persons productivity but possibly even the length of a persons life.  A couple of doctors in 2007 published a report in the Southern Medical Journal stating that noise was a serious threat to our health and well-being, even comparing it to air pollution.

“According to research published in Environmental Health Perspectives, long-term exposure to traffic noise may account for approximately 3 percent of coronary heart disease deaths (or about 210,000 deaths) in Europe each year.”   A person’s productivity level also drops significantly, over 66%  if one hears talking while engaged in a specific activity like writing.  Evidently, noise and distractions go hand in hand.  So how can we deal with things that seem out of our control – like noise?

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  1. Wear Noise Cancelling Headphones:  If you work in an open environment type office space this could end up being a huge time saver.  Some studies have shown that a person can lose up to 3 hours of productivity daily when distracted by noise.  Try them on airplanes as well to reduce jet lag.
  2. Sound Proof Your House:  Living near a freeway or train track could significantly affect your sleep and or daytime productivity, especially if you work from home.  You could simply hang drapes made of heavy fabric in front of windows or doors or install decorative sound proof paneling in your rooms (think movie theater here), replace your single panel windows with double panel, use more insulation, install carpet and/or replace your doors to a solid-core type.
  3. Ultrasonic Bark Control Device:  Barking dogs is high on the list of noise complaints.  An Ultrasonic bark control device emits a safe high frequency sound, only detected by dogs, which conditions the dog to stop barking when they hear the unpleasant sound.  There are many top selling brands for under $70 dollars.
  4. Use White Noise:  Purchase a White Noise Machine if you have problems with loud neighbors or traffic sounds.  They can help induce a peaceful sleep state and are great for masking noise.  They produce a slow steady frequency like:  ocean waves, falling rain, crickets, and other pleasant sounds to block out the unwanted ones.
  5. Earplugs:  A simple and cheap solution to a very real problem:  noise.  I have used earplugs for years.  Use them in a busy airport, on the airplane next to the screaming baby, while on the train, bus or car while your teenage son listens to heavy metal,  and even while sleeping.  Yes, they really do help.  If you are  sensitive to noise pollution this is a simple and reasonable solution when you are bombarded with a noisy environment.

Even the World Health Organization has spoken out on the very modern problem of noise pollution.  They have reported and classified 7 ways in which noise pollution adversely affects our health:  Hearing Impairment, Interference with spoken communication, Sleep disturbances, Cardiovascular Disturbances, Disturbances in Metal Health, Impaired Task Performance and Negative Social Behavior and Annoyance Reactions.

In some cases noise pollution has even been contributed to higher rates in crime.  In 2003, The District Line which operated in the London Tube, had such a pervasive problem with gangs that train drivers were afraid to even pull into the station.  Then, they piped in classical music and the crime rate fell 33% with in the first 18 months.

With so much noise in our environment that can adversely effect our health and productivity it’s worth taking a few precautions to avoid unnecessary exposure.  Try out these helpful tips and see for yourself if they make a difference.  Guarding your ears may just be a lifesaver.


References:  Mercola,Quieting Down Could Save Billions in Heart Disease Costs;  TEDblog,9 ways that sound affects our health, wellbeing and productivity;  British Medical Bulletin,Noise pollution: non-auditory effects on health,  Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague (Lisa Goines, RN and Louis Hagler, MD).