How much noise is still healthy?

Constant exposure to noise can make people ill. This is just as true for humans as it is for birds.

Once again, the neighbour drives past your window with his lawnmower, yet this morning you were already woken up by the construction work across the street and your concentration was repeatedly disturbed by noisy children in the stairwell while you were working in your home office. Sometimes we wish we could close our ears just like our eyes from time to time. But nature has arranged it in such a way that our hearing organ is constantly on reception even when we are asleep. This is becoming a problem for more and more people. What was supposed to protect us from nightly attacks by wild animals in the distant past can nowadays quickly become a health risk. Loud noises put our bodies on alert, stress hormones are released, the heart pumps faster, the oxygen supply is ramped up, the fat and sugar content of the blood increases. Our bodies are ready for fight or flight. At night, this physical state of alarm is triggered much earlier than during the day. We don’t necessarily have to be startled out of sleep, constant exposure to noise at night can affect our bodies without us being aware of it. And even during the day, noise in our big cities is becoming a health risk for more and more people.

Noise means stress. Stress makes you ill.

Scientists have found that constant noise exposure of 65 dB is harmful to health in the long term. The abbreviation dB stands for decibel and refers to the sound pressure. Noise in the range of 40 to 65 dB is perceived by most people as normal and not unpleasant. Above 80 dB, however, irreparable hearing damage can occur. At 120 dB, the pain threshold is reached. People who are exposed to constant noise have an increased risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack. It has also been proven that depression occurs more frequently in particularly noisy areas – for example near an airport.

However, the perception of noise also has a strongly subjective component. For example, most of us do not find loud music at a party or playing our own music disturbing, whereas the same noises, when they come from the neighbouring flat, trigger stress in us. For the most part, we also do not find the loud murmur of a mountain stream stressful, while a suburban train passing by several times an hour and producing a comparable level of noise often gets on our last nerve.

More than 54% of Germans feel that their well-being is impaired by street noise. This makes it the number one disturbance factor and a health hazard for the population that should not be underestimated. But what can we do against constant noise pollution?

Time for new concepts

More and more countries and municipalities are taking measures to better protect their citizens from the dangers of road noise. For example, car-free city centres are no longer a rarity, and more and more municipalities are working on new mobility concepts that rely on an environmentally and noise-friendly mix of transport modes. In addition, attempts are being made to reduce road noise through the use of whisper asphalt and more roundabouts that avoid loud approach noises at traffic lights, through sound-absorbing noise barriers and speed limits. In addition, of course, each and every one of us can contribute to minimising our noise footprint by leaving the car at home more often and switching to the bicycle, for example. Not using the car to make deliveries for small errands can also have a positive effect on the general noise level in your neighbourhood.

In addition, it is important to create small oases of quiet for yourself during the day and to allow your hearing a little silence. After a loud concert or other activity where you are exposed to a lot of noise, it is a good idea to take a long walk in the forest the next day to give your ears a chance to regenerate.

If you want to check which places in your neighbourhood are particularly noisy, you can find up-to-date noise maps for many conurbations on the internet. These should help to take into account a positive noise development in future construction measures. Local authorities are also required by law to develop action plans every five years to improve the noise situation for citizens.

Do you hear it beeping?

We humans are not the only creatures to suffer from traffic noise. According to a study conducted by the Max Plack Institute with zebra finches, the animals exposed to constant road noise developed significantly slower in comparison and showed weaknesses in spatial orientation, which led to problems in foraging. They also showed a weaker immune system. Furthermore, traffic noise is also a problem for birds because they are less able to warn each other of approaching enemies, as their calls are drowned out by the traffic noise. So there are many good reasons to reconsider and improve noise pollution in our cities as soon as possible.

Author: Tim


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