Dr. Daniel Fink believes the answer is yes. Noted noise activist, Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of The Quiet Coalition, writes about his thesis that the general public is exposed to entirely too much damaging noise every day. He notes that noise is a public health hazard, yet the federal government, which adopts standards to protect the public for food, water, and motor vehicles and makes recommendations or guidelines for dietary intakes of vitamins, salt, and sugar, has issued no federal standard regulating noise exposure or recommending noise limitations for the public. In his piece, Dr. Fink describes his quest to find the noise level that will protect hearing, and he reveals how a recent important but ignored study has confirmed his suspicions that hearing damage can occur at lower decibel levels than previously suspected.
Click the link above to read more about Dr. Fink’s mission to warn medical professionals, the government, and the public about the dangers of noise and how we can protect our hearing.
and Your Health. Belle Cooper has written a very thoughtful piece on the problems with noise at work and play, and the importance of silence in one’s life. On noise she writes:
Two types of everyday noise can be bad for us. One is excessive noise, such as the prolonged loud noise of being near an airport. The other is simply the distraction of general noise around us, such as conversations or interruptions from colleagues in the workplace.
The former may seem worse, but both can be detrimental to our productivity—and sanity.
Cooper lists a litany of horribles caused by exposure to chronic noise from traffic or airports, like high blood pressure, heart problems, and sleeplessness, but she also explores the effects of everyday noise on those of us not exposed to these chronic noise sources. What is the effect on those of us who simply experience what she calls “general daily noise?” She writes:
If you work in an open plan office, you’ll probably find [distraction and interruption] is an even greater problem. Ollie Campbell, CEO of Milanote and part of Navy Design’s multi-disciplinary team, says open plan offices come with their own implicit values. They make team members feel that disruption is acceptable, collaboration is the key priority, and serendipity is worth the interruptions it requires.
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Distractions and interruptions are such a common part of our workdays, we don’t even think of them as excessive noise anymore. It’s often more obvious when we don’t hear the noise of distractions around us at work than when we do.. A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that knowledge workers have focus periods of just eleven minutes on average, in-between interruptions. As Campbell said, “if you need to focus, ‘work’ is pretty much the worst place you could be.”
So what can be done to reclaim some peace, to regain one’s focus and concentration? Cooper suggests that we shut out both excessive/harmful noise as well as “the more general commotion of the modern workplace” so that we can create our best work. And she’s armed with research that shows that silence doesn’t just relax the brain:
One study of mice found that listening to silence for two hours every day prompted the subjects’ brains to grow new cells in the hippocampus, which is related to our brain’s memory abilities. While new cell growth doesn’t always provide health benefits, in this case those new cells did become new, functioning neurons within the mice brains. In other words, silence could make you a little smarter.
Ok, perhaps that reaching a bit, but Cooper shares some anecdotal evidence that silent time helps us make better long-term decisions as well as spur creative thinking. In the end, we can’t cocoon ourselves and block out all noise, but when we have the chance, Cooper suggests that we opt for silence. Sounds good to us!
In For drying out loud: Noisy hand dryers cause issues for some, the Dallas Morning News addresses one of our personal nemeses, hand dryers in public restrooms. While the noise generated by a hand dryer may be merely annoying for most, they are a source of distress for people who suffer from tinnitus, hyperacusis, and sensory disorders such as autism. The article discusses an Oregon State senator’s proposed legislation to limit public hand dryers to 84 decibels, “because louder models are ‘extraordinarily obnoxious and disruptive’ to people with sensory disorders, including [the legislator’s] autistic son, who cries and covers his ears when he’s near loud hand dryers.”
The problem is that the newer, more robust hand dryers are also louder:
[S]ome hearing experts have already made up their minds on high-decibel models like the Excel Xlerator and the Dyson Airblade.
“They’re a real cause for concern,” said Dr. Deanna Meinke, an audiologist and a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. “It’s just one more unnecessary source that adds to our cumulative exposure to noise.”
And there’s the problem in a nutshell. Hand dryers are sold as an ecologically sound alternative to paper towels, but one wonders if the real reason for their use the cost savings associated with no longer purchasing paper towels and the less frequent need to remove trash/clean restrooms. Sadly, no one puts a price on the discomfort (if not damage) suffered by those affected by loud hand dryers, which, unsurprisingly, are often placed in small tiled spaces. As Dr. Meinke noted, it’s just one more unnecessary source of noise.
Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link. Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.