When we hear about pollution, air quality comes to mind, but there’s another culprit out there that could potentially do real damage to our health. A recent study from the World Health Organization shows that noise pollution is one of the biggest health risks to Europeans today—a finding that has prompted updated guidelines about noise levels and how they affect people.

What is noise pollution and how can it impact our health? Very simply, noise pollution is when an excess of noise causes a disruption in our environment—a lot of the noise we experience every day fades to the background, but the quantity and volume of those sounds may be affecting your well being on a deeper level. In excess, noise can aggravate our blood pressure, eventually leading to cardiovascular issues. On a smaller scale, loud noises can cause irritation and disrupt cognition, not to mention contributing to hearing loss. Hearing loss alone has its own challenges, and people who suffer tend to experience isolation and withdrawal.

There are degrees to the type of noises we’re exposed to, and our bodies react differently if they are desired or undesired sounds. But even desired noises tend to be overly loud, and with the increased use of headphones in day to day life, people are getting more used to a higher level of noise—which is not a positive thing.

But how can we escape something that is so rooted in our daily lives? The recommendation for Europeans being pummeled with street noises every day is to bring traffic noise down to below 53 decibels during the day and 45 at night. Right now traffic noises are well above 55 decibels day and night in parts of Europe. Reducing noise by that degree seems like a lofty goal, but is it possible?

“The challenge is, there are an awful lot of people affected. Whether we have the technology yet to be able to secure that reduction without having an adverse impact on travel and connectivity, I’m not sure,” says Stephen Turner, president-elect of the Institute of Acoustics in the UK.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take on a smaller scale to protect our hearing and reduce the damaging effects of noise pollution. Consider these simple tactics for creating a more silent space.

  • Turn it down! – Televisions, radios, and other in-home media tend to be set to a higher level than necessary. Bring the volume down as much as possible to avoid an assault on the ears. If you’re having trouble hearing without excess volume, a trip to the doctor may be in order to check out your hearing.
  • Hold your ears – Earplugs are an easy and inexpensive way to cut down on noise. Wearing earplugs can reduce excess noise without cutting you off from your environment completely. If you know you’ll be participating in a noisy activity, earplugs are a great proactive measure.
  • Take a noise break – Just like we need to de-stress every day, it’s important to bask in silence as well. Take some time to escape from day to day noises with some quiet time. Turn off the television, step away from the appliances, and find a comfortable place that will allow your ears to take a much-needed break.

The Sound of Silence