A new study in New York City is investigating whether or not the racket and cacophony of daily life might have a negative impact on our hearing health. Funded by the National Science Foundation, researchers from New York University and Ohio State University are conducting the first phase of a five-year program called Sounds of New York City (Sonyc) to measure noise levels in the city.
Why you ask? It might sound ambitious, but Sonyc plans to create an aural map of the city to help agencies monitor and enforce noise pollution regulations. Using 100 specially-designed sensors dispersed throughout the city, researchers hope that their map will provide the data necessary to create the technology needed to target noisy sources and effectively reduce noise pollution in New York.
In a city like New York, however, reducing noise pollution is no easy task. While the US government recommends keeping noise level averages below 70 dB, in midtown Manhattan, noise frequently reaches or exceeds 95 dB – a frighteningly loud level. For those of us who live in urban environments, the noise of daily life can be more than just annoying – it can be dangerous.
That being said, even in rural areas, there are very few places in the continental United States that are free from man-made noise. A recent study of 290 US national parks showed that 67% of them experience significant human-caused noise, particularly from aircraft and roads.
If noisy streets and loud national parks are simply the new normal, then how can we best protect our hearing health from excessive noise? While this may seem like an insurmountable challenge, there are a number of steps you can take toward this goal:
- Wear earplugs. A good pair of earplugs can reduce the noise levels your ears are exposed to, which is a significant step toward protecting your hearing health. Although foam earplugs tend to be more affordable, custom molded ear plugs are better at reducing unwanted background noises while still allowing you to hear conversations and listen to music. Your hearing healthcare professional can help you find a pair that’s best for you.
- Build a fence. If you live in a busy and noisy neighborhood and you have a yard, installing a fence can help block out noise pollution. Vegetation, particularly bushes and trees, is also a great sound buffer, so you could increase the greenery in your yard and reduce noise pollution at the same time.
- Seal cracks and holes. Sealing up cracks and holes in exterior doors with foam sealant or caulk is a great way to reduce noise levels in your home. Particularly drafty doors also let in a good amount of noise, so draft stoppers can be useful here, too.
- Get involved in your neighborhood association. If you have exceptionally noisy neighbors or find that the sound levels in your neighborhood are causing you significant distress, take the time to speak with your neighborhood association. At this meeting, you can discuss the noise problems you’re experiencing and work with your neighbors to find a solution that works for everyone.
Excessively noisy neighborhoods and cities may be a new normal, but you don’t have to expose yourself to unnecessary hearing damage or loss. If you want to protect yourself from noise pollution there are a few proactive measures you can take toward better hearing health. But, if you’re concerned about your current hearing health, be sure to reach out to your hearing healthcare provider for individual guidance and advice.