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Some Helpful Hints for a Quieter Home

We need, expect, and appreciate sound. The sound of music, of rain, of wind in the trees - these are the food of the soul. Imagine what your world would be like without them.

On the other hand, excessive sound input can cause serious complications, and this is a growing problem in our industrialized world. The insidious background noise in our environment, which many of us have come to take for granted, has been increasing by about 1 decibel per year, on average.

We have known for a long time that hearing loss is one of the occupational hazards of being around noisy equipment. In reporting on the causes and treatment of deafness, one doctor wrote in an 1831 issue of The Lancet: The blacksmiths' deafness is a consequence of their employment; it creeps on them gradually, in general at about forty or fifty years of age."

These losses are due to prolonged exposure to sound levels of between 90 and 100 decibels. Because these levels damage nerves, the losses cannot be reversed. Hearing aids are largely ineffective in remedying the condition. Realizing the magnitude of this problem, the U.S. Department of Labor publishes occupational safety and health standards that include guidelines for the levels of noise allowable in industrial and business establishments. The Environmental Protection Agency makes recommendations for acceptable levels of noise in the environment at around 45 to 55 decibels.

Hearing loss is not the only problem associated with noise. Noise increases stress and irritability and may be a factor in even more serious emotional disturbances. People who live near airports have shown a higher rate of stress disorders than those in similar economic areas farther away from airports.

Awareness and self-responsibility in regard to noise pollution may be as simple as using a set of acoustic earmuffs or earplugs to protect yourself when working around loud machinery. Attending certain concerts or parties where loud music is played will require some conscious action on your part. Many musicians who use amplified sound suffer from severe irreversible hearing loss before middle age. The sound levels at some clubs have been reported to average about 100 decibels. Some are even blasting away at up to 140! Headphones can create even more damaging levels of sound. The more you stay in these environments, the sooner your ears and your whole nervous system will become accustomed to the amplified sounds. The noise may no longer seem to bother you, but physiological damage to your hearing is occurring while you are simultaneously drugging yourself with a form of sensory overload. It will then take greater amounts of input to stimulate you, at the same time that you lose an appreciation for the subtleties of sounds.

Hearing loss is not always physically caused. Some losses may result from the desire to avoid hearing something or the wish for distance in a relationship. Sometimes the event that triggers it occurs long before the actual hearing loss is detected.

Care and consciousness; moderation and body-trust; self-responsibility and love - these need to be the guiding principles in exercising respect for the magnificent sense of hearing.

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