Is a personal noise alert system needed?

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Silencity received a comment to my recent blog post about hearing protection asking if a noise alert system could be developed to let people know when they were encountering dangerous noise levels.

There are wall-mounted devices available, but I don’t know of any personal noise warning device, either for occupational use or for the public. Such a device or smartphone app would be nice but I don’t think it’s needed. Why?

For some time I have been ending posts with the line, “If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.” And that advice is why one doesn’t need a noise alert system. If you think a noise is too loud, you’re probably right.

For sure, if a noise hurts your ears, even if it doesn’t bother someone else, it’s too loud for you.  There are clearly variations in sensitivity to noise, but you need to protect your hearing, not someone else’s.

And if a noise exposure causes temporary ringing in the ears or muffling of hearing, that’s a definite sign that the noise was too loud.

For noise levels that aren’t quite that high, a simple and easy rule of thumb is that if you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 70-75 A-weighted decibels.

And that’s why you don’t need a noise warning device. Depending on your belief system, God, Mother Nature, or Darwinian evolution already gave you one!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Comments (2)

  1. Ben Pearre

    Thanks for the shout-out!

    There’s an error of logic in this post: “If it sounds too loud [to listen without pain], it IS too loud [to not cause hearing damage]” is a great reminder, but it is NOT logically equivalent to “if it doesn’t sound too loud, then it isn’t too loud”. Rather, all you can logically infer is “If it isn’t too loud, then it doesn’t sound too loud”. So your argument above that a warning system is unnecessary doesn’t follow from your tagline.

    Also, I wasn’t asking about hearing damage. I was asking about other health implications. You’ve been teaching us about this as well, and you know better than I do that low levels of noise pollution, even below 50 dB, are perfectly safe for ears but can still raise cortisol, interfere with sleep, lead to chronic stress, shortened lifespans, reduced QOL…

    So forget hearing damage for a moment and consider the broader issue with noise pollution. So here’s my “is a detector needed” question:

    “If it doesn’t sound loud enough to annoy / awaken / intrude / distract, then it’s NOT loud enough to cause stress / learning disability / raised cortisol / poor sleep / reduced quality of life / early death”

    True or false?

    Thanks again!

  2. Daniel Fink

    It is clear from the information about the new Apple watch app that the intent of the app is only to warn about sound pressure levels dangerous for hearing, not for the non-auditory health impacts of noise. But to be 100% explicit, the first sentence might be changed to, “…..when they were encountering noise levels dangerous for hearing.” The adverse non-auditory health impacts of noise begin at exposure levels of 30-35 dB, which disrupt sleep, and aircraft noise begins causing an increase in heart attacks at about 45 dBA Cardiovascular and other adverse effects certainly occur at average noise exposures of 55 dB.

    I will try to make clear when I use the phrase, “If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud” that I am only referring to auditory health, not to the non-auditory health impacts of noise exposure, although this should be clear from the context of what I am writing


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