Sound is an essential form of human communication. However, unwanted sounds, or noise, can lead to a variety of medical problems, including deafness and elevated blood pressure; there is also evidence for an increased pulse rate. There is some evidence suggesting that environmental noise may affect the learning ability of children.
Sound waves are generated by vibrations moving through the air, and they are perceived through a complex interaction of vibrations hitting the inner ear. External vibrations are translated, through bones, into additional vibrations, which are then picked up by hair-like structures in the inner ear. These vibrations are further translated into neurologic signals, which are registered in the brain and received as intelligible information.
Noise can be normal sounds that get in the way of being able to perceive wanted sounds. Sound is measured in units called decibels, and the human ear is well-designed to perceive and interpret sounds at low decibel levels and across a wide spectrum of vibration. Sounds that are too loud, however, can damage the ability of the ear to make
There is some controversy as to what level of sound is too high, particularly in workplaces. It is thought that the maximal tolerable noise level for an eight-hour workplace exposure is about seventy-five decibels. The current allowable standard is eighty-five decibels. The standard was decreased from the previous ninety decibel level after a hard-fought battle to try and prevent a significant number of cases of hearing loss. At eighty-five decibels, hearing protection and noise monitoring becomes mandatory. There are several ways that noise can be reduced, either through changes in noise-making equipment itself, or by providing personal protective equipment to individuals who must work in noisy environments. The two basic types of personal protection are earplugs and earmuffs. Earmuffs, which can be put on and taken off more easily, are useful where the noise may be intermittent, such as at airports. Earplugs are more practical for people who spend considerable continuous periods of time in noisy environments.
In addition to noisy workplace environments, there are certain general environments where noise may be a particular problem. Among these are subway systems, where passengers may be intermittently exposed to high noise levels, and in communities located near airports. Over time there has been a considerable effort to diminish the noise around airports, both through the use of quieter engines and through changes in flight paths. In some extreme situations, homes have been bought and people moved out of flight paths near airports to help reduce the risk and annoyance associated with such noise.
ARTHUR L. FRANK
Moller, A. G. (1992). "Noise as a Health Hazard." In Public Health and Preventive Medicine, 13th edition, eds. J. M. Last and R. M. Wallace. Norwalk, CT: Appleton and Lange.