Take a stroll down a busy street and the sounds are everywhere — and even more pernicious to your hearing than you might expect, considering that normal speaking volume registers just 60 decibels. Cars honking, sirens wailing? That’s 85 decibels of sound. An approaching subway train launches 100 decibels into the air.
Think it’s safer in the suburbs? The leaf blower: 85 decibels. The dog who decides to bark in the car: 110 decibels.
And lest we forget about AirPods: Those minuscule technological gadgets can send pulsating waves at decibel levels above 100 directly into your ear. Cranking up the volume of music on an iPhone is safe for just 10 minutes before you risk serious, even permanent, damage to your hearing.
Noise, in other words, is a problem like never before, and its effect on our overall health is gaining more attention. One 2019 study showed that occupational noise (what workers in an automotive plant or factory might experience) “was positively associated with blood pressure levels and hypertension risk.” Environmental noise, from the road, railway, and air traffic all around, can not only disturb a peaceful night’s sleep but is also linked to higher stress levels and, in extreme cases, cognitive deficits.
Just two years ago, the World Health Organization identified noise pollution as an environmental danger that’s only getting worse. By 2050, according to estimates from the United Nations, more than two-thirds of the global population will live in cities, a harbinger of even more noise. Already, more than 20 million Americans go to work every day surrounded by leaf-blower-level sounds.
For people who already suffer from hearing conditions, the potential consequences are huge.
Close to 45 million Americans already have tinnitus, characterized by an incessant ringing or buzzing in the ears that only the afflicted can hear. And for about one in every thousand people diagnosed, tinnitus is followed by a lesser-known condition called hyperacusis, a disorder in which everyday sounds cause intense pain, even sounds far quieter than a honking car or a leaf blower on full…