Listen up: irritating noises can hurt your health

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:

Even in a tranquil setting, there can be rumblings of trouble.

Traffic noise was enough to rattle the peace at a Fort Myers cafe. Jeremy Allen and his two friends were trying enjoy a quiet lunch.

“Some guy came by on a motorcycle, and he had his radio so high you can barely hear,” Allen said.

It comes from stress, anxiety, annoyance. From just lower levels of sound that are interfering in your daily life. Fort Myers audiologist, Jack Adams

It turns out that it’s the sounds you don’t expect that sneak up on you and could leave long-lasting damage. Things like loud vehicles, leaf blowers and jets at levels are not high enough to hurt your ears, but if constant, can hurt your health.

Audiologist Jack Adams is tuned into all things hearing. “Well sound comes in hits your eardrum, there are three bones in your middle ear that vibrate the sound from your middle ear into your inner ear. And the inner ear is where all the nerves are for your hearing.”

The EPA regulates exposure to extremely loud noise because it can wreck your hearing. People who work in landscaping, for example, wear ear protection because they spend hours a day with the volume up. Now, research shows that low-volume noises pose another threat.

“It comes from stress, anxiety, annoyance. From just lower levels of sound that are interfering in your daily life. But it’s not actually damaging to your hearing. The sound levels that they’re talking about can affect blood pressure, and affect heart rate and can affect sleep,” said Adams.

Urban noise pollution is what it’s sometimes called. The background track to everyday life. We notice it, but at most consider it an aggravation. Without thinking that what constantly bothers us can make us sick.

Allen, one of the sidewalk diners, said a lot of noises grate on his nerves.

“Trucks like this are annoying to me. And motorcycles. They’re obnoxiously loud. And sometimes it interrupts conversation like we’re having right now,” Allen said. “Another noise that bothers me is jet noise. One more, dog barking obnoxiously annoys me.”

Getting steamed up about sound experts found can lead to a cascade of bad things. Beginning with the release of stress hormones that, over time, can trigger an inflammatory response. Resulting in a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and more.

Natalie Mathweg also gets riled up about traffic noise. “Like the loud motorcycles. Or even like an engine like that, RRRRR, like that is a little bit obnoxious sometimes.”

She had no idea the cumulative effect could of repeated sounds could be damaging. “Really?” Mathweg said. “My neighbors sometimes thud on the floor.”

It’s an aspect of sound even Adams, the audiologist, didn’t see coming. “The distraction of the noise and the effect it has on health and on cognitive processing of information is usually one of the last things that people consider.”

The simplest solution is to unwind, unplug or distance yourself from sounds that stress you.

“Maybe I should spend some more time in silent meditation,” said Allen.

Makes you truly appreciate the sound of silence.

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