Unhealthy city noise

You can close your eyes, but closing your ears is not easy …

Unhealthy city noise

Original material

In 1896, a newspaper article titled 'The Plague of City Noises' provoked a kind of 19th century equivalent of a Twitter tantrum. The article talked about the “detrimental and exhausting effects of city noise on the ear and the nervous system in general” and led to hundreds of comments sent to the editor, and piles of private letters in the United States and Europe. “Almost without exception … the medical press agreed with the statement that the noise of modern cities not only causes great discomfort, but also significantly shortens life and undermines health by its influence,” wrote the author of an article about this phenomenon a year later.

Fast-forward to 2011: In a report from the World Health Organization, researchers came to similar conclusions. They concluded that in Western Europe alone, about a million healthy life years are lost each year due to traffic-related noise. Noise is an obvious irritant, the report says, and the long-term effects of 'chronic noise stress' on human hormones and the human nervous system are raising more questions and concerns.

Just as the digestive system may not be able to handle the amount of sugar and calories in modern diets, the brain and nervous system may not be able to handle the level of background noise in modern life, according to noise pollution experts. “The auditory system constantly analyzes acoustic information, including unwanted and annoying noise, which is filtered and interpreted by various brain structures,” says Wolfgang Babisch, co-author in the WHO study and a former researcher at the German Federal Environmental Protection Agency who studies the effects of noise on human health.

Unhealthy city noise

The active auditory system in our brains was designed to work in a natural environment, not in a cacophony of cities and suburbs. Babiš says there is growing evidence that exposure to background noise may contribute to metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. There is also a correlation between mental health impairment and noise-related irritants. What harm can noise cause? Babis says that loud or unpredictable sounds can harm the body's sympathetic nervous system and trigger the growth of hormones released during stress, such as epinephrine and cortisol. Over time, SNS activation and the accompanying surges of stress hormones can lead to high blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure and increased blood viscosity, which in turn can cause health problems.

Thomas Munzel, professor at the University Hospital. Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, published a study this year in which he concluded that exposure to loud ambient noise may increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmias. In another 2018 report, Munzel details the relationship between loud noise and heart failure, stroke and heart attack, as well as the negative effects of noise on sleep and cognitive performance. He believes that any noise of about 70 decibels – the approximate level of noise from a passing car – can be considered 'unhealthy' because it can disrupt sleep, and poor sleep is a risk factor for health problems ranging from heart disease and obesity to diabetes. “You can close your eyes, but not your ears,” says Munzel. During sleep, sudden or loud sounds can lead to a significant increase in blood pressure, even if the person does not wake up.

The health effects of various noises are highly dependent on context and your sensitivity to sound. Babiš believes that people can get used to noise. A longtime city dweller may not notice or attach importance to the background chatter outside his city office window, although the same sounds can annoy someone accustomed to a quieter rural environment.

Any noise that disturbs concentration or annoys you, regardless of the decibel level, be it a colleague's laugh, a neighbor's dog barking, or screaming children, can easily activate your nervous system and lead to negative consequences, including an increased risk of mental illness. “The higher the level of irritation, the higher the likelihood of depression and anxiety disorders,” adds Munzel. Added to all this is stress, which only intensifies the negative effects. Even music can be annoying and stressful, says Joan Levy, associate professor and head of the Louis Armstrong Department of Music and Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Izraiel Medical Center. Music at a fast pace with a lot of notes can increase your heart rate and breathing. And while this can be useful during exercise or when you need to cheer up, it's not so obvious when you are in traffic or trying to relax.

Unhealthy city noise

Masking or blocking loud or annoying sounds can help combat all these negative effects. Noise canceling earplugs or headphones, as well as soft music, fans, or white noise generators, may help, depending on the situation. All this can block unwanted noise. Natural ambient sounds – rain, rustling leaves, and the sound of waves – can calm the nervous system and help manage stress.

On the other hand, you shouldn't strive for complete silence. The brain and auditory system are not built for noisy environments, but they also don't respond very well to no sound. Complete silence can be stressful too. Life has become loud, it's time to make it quieter.

Author – Markam Hyde

The material seemed to me quite interesting, recently it turned out to occasionally use interesting devices that just solve the problem of background noise in a dream and help to focus on the necessary voices in public and in noisy places. Well, active noise cancellation has become a part of my everyday life, becoming an indispensable part of travel to / from work and back. Moreover, if I do not need to go down the subway, then I gladly put on regular headphones without ANC and hit the road. And when I come to my historical homeland, I often walk without headphones, listening and remembering the sound of the city.

The effect of noise on us has not yet been fully investigated, but the results obtained are alarming and make us think. Yes, the sensitivity to sound varies, but who wants to endanger their health? This problem is especially relevant for modern children growing up in big cities and constantly living in conditions of excessive noise pollution. Are you fighting the noise around you? Or is it all just another study by British scientists?

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