Noise, the Number One Environmental Problem

The OHROPAX Noiseometer

Right Up to the Pain Barrier

The roaring noise of traffic and loud music can put so much strain on our ears that it hurts. Our ears are unable to cope with such long-term stress and exposure, but our hectic modern lives go hand in hand with a permanent soundscape of noise that drives us up the wall.


Many people are of the opinion that noise has been the most significant form of environmental pollution for quite some time. In fact, every fourth individual feels strongly or extremely strongly irritated by noise, with the largest source of complaints being about traffic noise, closely followed by aircraft and workplace noise. As many as 15 to 20% of the German population are classified as hard of hearing, with an increasing number of young people forming part of this group. Hardness of hearing is, however, only one of a number of ailments that can be caused by noise.


Why Do We Take Noise Personally?

Whether we perceive sounds as disturbing or pleasant not only depends on their physically measurable metric. Pitch, time, duration and the type of noise also play a role alongside the number of decibels of a sound. The droning of a fridge at night, which reaches a level of 30 dB, for example, can cause a restless night's sleep, yet the significantly louder noise of crashing waves has a relaxing effect. An equally important factor is whether or not we can influence the source of noise. People like to turn up the volume and listen to their favourite music, for example, but think that the unmelodious racket coming from the neighbour’s house disturbs their peace and sense of well-being.


Noise at the Workplace

Noise is a prominent feature of many workplaces and hardness of hearing is one of the most frequent occupational illnesses. Noise also results in distractions, a lack of concentration and headaches, which in turn lead to an increased accident and higher error rates. The EU Directive on "Noise" (previously known as the German Accident Prevention Regulation (UVV) on Noise or BGV B 3), which has been in force since 15th February 2006, introduced a further reduction in the threshold values for the sound levels to which workers are allowed to be exposed during an 8-hour working day. The Directive stipulates that hearing protection must be provided for exposure to noise of 80 dB (A) or above and that this must also be worn for noises of 85 dB (A) and above.


Noise Causes Stress

Noise is a classic stress factor. Noises above 90 dB cause the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline to be released. These are also joined by cortisol in the case of sounds above 120 dB. These hormones constrict the arteries, increase the heart rate and blood pressure, and influence our subconscious nervous system. If an individual feels like he/she is being defencelessly exposed to noises, these stress hormones can also spill out at significantly lower decibel values. Our bodies react much more sensitively at night, meaning that hormones that should result in a short-term fight-or-flight response actually causes nervousness, peptic ulcers and premature aging of the cardiovascular system in the long term for civilised humans. For example, an individual who lives in a loud street with a constant background noise of 65 dB has a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack.


Noise and Sleeplessness

Night-time noises such as street noise, loud neighbours, gurgling radiators or a snoring partner cause sleep disturbances for many people. If a person does not get enough sleep on a long-term basis, this may have a lasting, damaging effect on his/her health. A lack of sleep can cause the immune system to weaken and lead to a reduction in performance and concentration.


Noise - A Trigger for Tinnitus

In Germany, as many as 1 in every 12 people suffers from constant hissing, ringing or whistling sounds in their ears. Their brains believe that they are hearing noises that do not actually exist. The causes behind this problem are complex and have yet to be fully explored. The chances of recovering from tinnitus are limited, especially if an individual has had the condition for a long time. Noise is one of the triggers of tinnitus in 30% of all cases. Although earplugs cannot influence existing cases of tinnitus, they can help to prevent new cases from occurring and deteriorating.