If sound can be healing, and healing sounds help us improve our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves, what is noise? How does noise differ from healing sounds and from music we don’t like? In addition to music, what noises are present in people’s homes and the everyday workspace of most health-care environments? Finally, what impact does noise have on health?
Our advancing civilization has gotten noisier over time. Human hearing evolved in a relatively quiet setting where very loud noises were the exception. The sounds that were heard even 100 years ago all carried meaning to the hearer, and the ability to detect subtle sounds was important for both survival and pleasure.
Now, in a typical day, human beings rarely experience quiet. Our homes, towns, cities, and work environments rarely allow us to escape noise, the sound level is often harmful, and the background noise rarely contains useful information.
Noise can negatively impact our health in many ways. It can cause the following:
- Temporary or permanent hearing loss
- Sleep disruption
- Increased blood pressure
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Nervous and psychic disorders
- Decreased immunity and immune system recovery
- Increased cerebral blood flow
- Vertigo, agitation, and weariness
- Increased blood cortisol and cholesterol levels
- Disturbed digestion and upset stomach or ulcers
- Fatigue and poor work performance
- Increased respiratory rate
- Increased pain perception
- Increase need for medication
- Intensified effects of drugs, alcohol, aging, and carbon monoxide
- Increased crime levels
- Decreased compassion and caring toward others
Noise pollution costs billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, lost work days, health-care treatment, impaired learning, and poorer health. Some studies have shown that if you can hear someone else talking while you are reading or writing, your own productivity dips by up to 66%. Noise in most environments is above the decibel level where hearing protection should be utilized to prevent hearing loss (35 to 40 db). Most of us are unable to escape garden equipment, power tools, noisy home appliances (such as hair dryers and vacuum cleaners), toys (rattles, squeaky toys), or piped-in music at airports, stores, and gas stations. So how can we preserve the peace and quiet in our environments and support the healing element of silence?