Sound is an essential part of our lives. From hearing the birds chirp to the sound of a smoke alarm being able to hear is a wonderful thing. Noise on the other hand, is usually used to refer to unpleasant or unwanted sounds. The modern world is full of so much noise it is considered a pollution, a serious environmental issue.

Noises like an airplane flying over, honking cars, construction and a barking dog can all be considered noise pollution. According to the World Health Organization levels of noise pollution in some cities present danger and are seriously harming human health and activity.

Noise pollution can cause a number of health conditions the two most common among them being hearing loss and tinnitus.

How can noise be harmful?

Any noises that exceed 80 dB is harmful if you are exposed for an extended period of time. To put that in perspective, the noise of a garbage truck is 100 dB and an ambulance siren is about 120 dB. Prolonged exposure to noise can cause irreversible hearing loss and ringing in your ears known as tinnitus.

Even those who don’t live in a bustling city can be victim to noise pollution. Attending a rock concert or indoor basketball tournament easily exceeds the 80 dB threshold for hearing loss.

How to protect yourself from noise pollution?

Very little is being done to stop noise pollution in populated areas. There are some efforts pushing the government to regulate. However, most of the responsibility to protect your ears from harmful noise falls on you.

To avoiding hearing loss caused by noise pollution be aware of noises that can be damaging such as lawn mowers, freeway traffic, airport traffic, subways and overcrowded public areas. If you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone within arm’s length the noise is likely too loud.

Keep the volume of your iPod or radio at a moderate level. If your work involves loud machinery be sure to wear protective earplugs or earmuffs. If you live near a busy road and find that the noise of the cars keeps you up at night consider sleeping earplugs.

We know many of these noises can’t be avoided. However, it is important to try to minimize the amount of time spent around noise or wear protection.