05/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Noise, Hearing Loss And Health

"Noise is sound that we have not selected to listen to', says Dr. Alan Gertner, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders and Deafness at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. Further, he notes that during every hour of each day a sea of sound surrounds us, just like water surrounds fish. Noise can come from subways, kitchen blenders, children shouting, traffic, dishwashers, or your neighbor's loud music. Besides being an annoyance, noise is a real threat to hearing, physical health and mental well-being.

Investigators have known that noise can cause irreversible hearing loss and can promote tinnitus (the medical term for internal noises heard in the ears or head). Researchers have also proven that classroom noise interferes with learning, and recent research at Kean University, NJ and Purdue University, IN has demonstrated that background noise can interfere with language development and memory.

"Noise has invaded our homes and permeates our existence," adds Dr. Gertner. Typical household appliances and tools, such as vacuums, food processors, lawn mowers and chain saws can be remarkably loud. Even recreational listening poses a hazard to our hearing. Personal stereos, MP3 players and iPODs transform our homes into centers of noise pollution. Even the fans and disk/CD/DVD drives of personal computers and computer printers are sources of noise.

One culprit that has received considerable attention is the iPod. "The device, especially at volume levels that many young people use, is capable of causing serious damage to hearing", explains Dr. Gertner. Listeners may eventually suffer with significant hearing loss and tinnitus. MP3 players can generate noise levels well over 100decibels. As a comparison, the level of most home fire alarms is about 90decibels.

"In the working environment noise creates additional problems. It interferes with communication, reduces productivity and makes concentration difficult", Dr. Gertner explains. On the job, noise also results in increased accidents and injuries. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), noise is one of the most common health problems in the American work place. Noise, and its resulting noise-induced hearing loss, has also been identified as a significant global health problem, especially in urban settings.

Noise levels of some common household products

Vacuum: 85dBA Hairdryer: 85dBA Lawn Mower: 90dBA Food Processor: 95dBA Leaf Blower: 100dBA

Dr. Gertner recommends for hearing health, as well as a sense of peace and general well-being, turn down the volume at home, in the work place and during recreational activities. Encourage young people to reduce the volume of their music players and for an added benefit, have students complete their homework in quiet. Students have been reported to require less time to complete homework and to retain more information when studying in a quieter atmosphere.

For additional information about noise, readers may contact Dr. Gertner ( or the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association. For an interesting demonstration about noise they may log onto the website of the Center for Disease Control.