We’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about the beneficial effects of sound on people’s physical and mental health and on brand communication. But just as it brings benefits, sound can also bring harm through noise pollution, the topic of today’s post.

When we discussed the dangerous connections and their negative impact on Sound UX, the user’s sound experience, we briefly touched on this issue. However, noise pollution goes beyond persistent phone calls and can be found all around us, especially if we live in large urban centers, with serious impacts on human health and environmental degradation.

But before we delve into that, let’s start with the basics.

Car Sound Pollution

What is Noise Pollution?

By definition, noise pollution is any unwanted, usually loud and continuous sound. It can happen as an isolated event, such as an explosion, or be constant like the noise from construction, traffic, machinery, transportation, motorcycle exhausts, or the constant noise of airplanes. Not to mention our own homes, which are considered the most sonically polluted environment, where vacuum cleaners, blenders, hair dryers, and children’s toys create an extremely noisy soundscape.

What Health Problems Are Caused by Noise Pollution?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise pollution is an “underestimated threat that can cause a range of health problems in the short and long term”. These problems range from more obvious ones, such as deafness, hearing loss, and sleep disturbances, to cardiovascular diseases, decreased work and school performance, and more.

When noise levels exceed 70 decibels, the body remains in a constant state of alertness (even when you are asleep), leading to the release of hormones that can result in cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. The WHO estimates that 50% of the population between 12 and 35 years old is exposed to these noise levels. However, some groups are more vulnerable to these effects.

Sound pollution dangers

According to the WHO, because children spend more time sleeping than adults, they are more vulnerable to noise. Individuals with chronic illnesses and the elderly are also more sensitive to noise pollution, as are night shift workers and people living in high-risk areas or homes with poor sound insulation.

“It is likely that the gap between the rich and the poor will widen even further if governments continue to fail to address noise pollution,” the organization says. This is because the quality of life for workers tends to decrease, as does their dependence on controlled sleep medications, which directly impacts the quality and performance of work and, consequently, income.

Roadwork sound pollution

What Are the Effects of Noise Pollution on an Ecosystem?

In addition to its impact on people, noise pollution is directly harmful to marine and terrestrial biodiversity. A study published in the scientific journal The Lancet states that anthropogenic noises, those caused by humans, can “reduce reproductive success and increase both mortality and emigration, reducing the population density of species.”

The damage is particularly concerning for marine life, as marine animals rely on sound for communication, hunting, and navigation. “Anthropogenic noises can negatively affect them by disrupting their sensory perception in cognitive processes, leading to incorrect decisions and eventually death,” the study says, emphasizing that new technologies and international efforts need to be more assertive in combating this damage.

Street pollution
Factory pollution

Another study conducted by scientists from various parts of the world and published in 2019 also concluded that these human interventions specifically harm Brazilian dolphins, which have become “tourist attractions” in the country’s major river cities. The long-term effects, however, will only be known when more data is collected.

There is no doubt that noise pollution is the true exterminator of the future. However, as we are dominated by the sense of sight and noise is invisible, it seems that we downplay its effects. We know that with the avalanche of daily urgencies due to the world’s political and climate situation, this issue is pushed to the background. Yet, its not-so-silent effects are contributing to the degradation of our species and destroying our sensitivity, which would serve to fix everything else. A peaceful sound experience can completely change society.

Sound pollution endangers mental health

How to Protect Yourself from Noise Pollution?

Noise pollution has been a federal crime since 1990. But that doesn’t mean you are immune to everyday noises. Below are some tips on how to protect your health and mind from these inconveniences:

– Lower the volume: Lowering the volume of sound equipment, especially those transmitted directly to your ears, like headphones, is a way to protect your eardrums.

– Avoid noisy places and situations: If you feel that your hearing is more sensitive, frequenting enclosed spaces with loud sounds is the last thing you should do.

– Use protectors: Avoiding noise is not always an option, but you can protect yourself from it. Noise-canceling headphones and earplugs can be a good solution to avoid noise pollution, especially when sleeping or using noisy equipment in your daily life.

– Repair old equipment: From vacuum cleaners to car and motorcycle engines, a “repair” can bring many benefits to your hearing health and prevent you from being exposed to noise pollution for long periods of time.

Want to know more about the benefits of sound and how it can be your ally – or enemy? Send a message to Zanna Sound!

Nature Sounds: A Gateway to Mental and Physical Well-being