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Cut noise levels to save your hearing

Special to The TribuneApril 29, 2014 

MCT ILLUSTRATION

Wednesday is the 19th annual International Noise Awareness Day. This event was founded by the Center for Hearing and Communication to warn us about the dangers of too much noise.

Sounds are measured in decibels. The softest sound we can hear is measured at 0 decibels. Normal breathing is 10 decibels. Normal conversation registers 60 decibels. Shouting in your ear is 110 decibels.

Experts agree that continued exposure to noise of about 85 decibels (the sound of a food processor) will damage hearing. Noise levels above 140 decibels (an airplane taking off) can cause damage after one exposure.

But noise pollution affects more than just hearing. Chronic exposure to loud noise increases stress hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, and can lead to hypertension, stroke, heart failure and immune problems. A study published in Science of the Total Environment found an 80 percent increase in cardiovascular death for women who were deemed to be noise sensitive.

Noise pollution plays a role in our mental health. While it doesn’t cause mental illness, it can lead to increased symptoms of anxiety, stress, nervousness, emotional instability, argumentativeness or psychosis.

Chronic noise interferes with children’s development and may have lifelong consequences for their education and health. A report by the World Health Organization and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre confirmed that children who live or go to school near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have delayed cognitive and language skills and lower reading scores.

Even animals suffer.

A recent study discovered that some species of male birds change the frequencies of their calls when bombarded with noise, making them less attractive to females.

Noise pollution is a fact of modern life. Few of us would choose to go back to an era before air travel or power tools. Still, sacrificing health and well-being is not an option. We must moderate our technological habits while keeping the uproar in check.

For more information, go to the Center for Hearing and Communication website, http://www.chchearing.org .

CUTTING NOISE LEVELS

Practice the following tips for decreasing noise pollution, adapted from the Center for Hearing and Communication:

• Pay attention to the noises you make. You’re probably making more than you realize. Notice ways you can cut back. Your ears and utility bills will thank you.

• Turn down the volume at home. Lower radio and stereo volumes by two notches. Turn the television down one notch.

• Monitor music in your headphones. If you can’t hear other people talking when you’re wearing headphones or if people have to shout at you to be heard from 3 feet away, your music is too loud. Turn it down.

• Use double-paned windows and weatherstripping. These are great strategies if you live on a noisy intersection or near an airport. They’re good for the environment, too.

• Be careful at the gym. It’s fun to work out to music, but the goal is toned muscles, not frayed nerves or damaged hearing. Stand far away from speakers. Talk to the manager if the music is too loud. Wear earplugs if you need them.

• Don’t honk your horn unless there’s an imminent emergency.

• Avoid noisy sports events, restaurants, rock concerts and nightclubs unless you have hearing protection.

• Select quiet activities, such as hiking or visiting a museum.

• Turn off the TV during dinner and have a quiet conversation instead. Better yet, turn off the television altogether so you acclimate to the absence of sound.

• Wear ear protection whenever you use power tools.

• Practice self-calming behaviors. Meditation quiets agitated thoughts and counteracts stress caused by noise. Yoga gives you an all-body workout while centering your mind.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com .

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