Noise: the silent killer


From the last three months I was feeling too aggressive and too irritating. Grown peevish with myself. Though I knew my mood was getting too awkward but I couldn’t help. Friends were avoiding me and work just looked burden on me. Then one of my doctor friends expressed his concern at my condition and examined me. After that he came to conclusion that I was suffering due to high exposure to noise. It startled me! Can noise have such an impact on me? It led me to search for answers. And here is what I found.
The word “noise” is derived from the Latin word “nausea,” meaning seasickness. Noise is among the most pervasive pollutants today. Many of you may have been woken up by the sound of your alarm clock or the music from the radio. We experience noise in a number of ways. On some occasions, we can be both the cause and the victim of noise, such as when we are operating noisy appliances or equipment. There are also instances when we experience noise generated by others just as people experience second-hand smoke. While in both instances, noises are equally damaging, second-hand noise is more troubling because it has negative impacts on us but is put into the environment by others, without our consent.
Noise pollution, human-created noises are harmful to health and welfare. Transportation vehicles are the worst offenders, with aircraft, railroad stock, trucks, buses, automobiles, and motorcycles all producing excessive noise. Construction equipment, e.g., jackhammers and bulldozers also produce substantial noise pollution. Barking dogs, lawn mowers, motorcycles, airplanes, car stereo systems, and traffic generally have combined to such a degree that noise induced irritation, annoyance, discomfort, and hearing impairment have become a significant public health issue, certainly enough of one to motivate a political response.
Subjected to 45 decibels of noise, the average person cannot sleep. At 120 decibels the ear registers pain, but hearing damage begins at a much lower level, about 85 decibels. The duration of the exposure is also important. Apart from hearing loss, such noise can cause lack of sleep, irritability, heartburn, indigestion, ulcers, high blood pressure, and possibly heart disease. One burst of noise, as from a passing truck, is known to alter endocrine, neurological, and cardiovascular functions in many individuals; prolonged or frequent exposure to such noise tends to make the physiological disturbances chronic. In addition, noise-induced stress creates severe tension in daily living and contributes to mental illness.

How damaging Noise can be?
Many people are exposed to dangerous levels of noise without even realizing it whether it be from loud music, a motorcycle, airplane, lawnmowers, or even driving on the highway with your window open. Even if we are sitting outside our homes or going for a walk we are subjected to loud noises which damage our health whether it is the passing of a garbage truck or the sound of a car horn. Many young people listen to their car stereos very loud on their way to school or work, this is damaging to their health not only because of the amount of noise but also because it is done consecutively every day.
Most of the Psychological Effects of noise depend on the pre-existing physical and psychological state of the individual. Some of us, already living in noisy surroundings, may be more tolerant to Noise. While the others, having the privileged of a peaceful neighbourhood, may easily get irritated by the same sound. The ‘irritation threshold’ will also be low for neurotic persons or for someone who is already annoyed or unhappy. From sufferers’ point of view, it is any sound, which they would have stopped if they could. It is undesirable, unpleasant and untimely sound, which can be continuous or intermittent. Besides this, with the vast diversity of human culture and individual preferences, it can be empathized that, One man’s music can be other man’s Noise.
Almost everyone has had one experience of being temporarily “deafened” by a loud noise. This “deafness” in not permanent, although it is often accompanied by a ringing in the ears, and one can hear another person if he raises his voice. Likewise, normal hearing comes back within a few hours at most. This sort of partial hearing loss is called Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS). The human ear is a delicate and fragile anatomical structure on the other hand it’s a fairly powerful physical force. These muscles act quickly but not always. In cases of long term exposure to moderately loud noise, the onset and progress of noise induced deafness is very gradual and by the time the individual is already somewhat deaf, he/she many not be aware of the deafness until the deafness starts affecting the person’s ability to hear normal conversation, telephone rings and doorbells etc.
Although noise is an integral part of civilization, it would appear that unless some definite steps are taken to reduce the present inordinate levels in both industry and community generally, more people will become auditory cripples.
Planners need to know the likely effects on the noise pollution in a community of introducing a new noise source as well as increasing the level of an existing source. Policy makers, when considering applications for new developments, must take into account maximum levels, equivalent levels, frequency of occurrence, and operating time of the major noise sources. If awareness and precautions are not taken to stop noise pollution there will be a future epidemic of hearing loss. Noise pollution is a serious problem that must be taken seriously.

(Murassa shamshad is a student of Government Medical College and can be mailed at

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