Loud Noise: The Harmful Effects

Continued exposure to loud noises can cause many health problems, so prevention of such exposure is vital.

A chart of the noise levels of different sounds and activities.

Hearing Health Foundation

A chart of the noise levels of different sounds and activities.

Sripriya Srinivas, Columnist

With the rise of technology that allows for people to listen to music through earbuds or headphones, many children and young adults use volumes that are damaging to their ears. However, loud volumes of noises can be extremely dangerous to all aspects of health, affecting not only hearing but also potentially the cardiovascular system, mental health, and safety. Much of the dangers associated with noise can be explained with the decibel level.

High noise levels can lead to many problems, including in hearing. An effect of loud noises is tinnitus, which is buzzing or ringing in the ears; this is a symptom of larger hearing loss. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), continued exposure to sounds louder than 70 decibels can damage nerves in the ear. This includes noise levels at concerts or of a siren. According to the National Institutes of Health, the highest volume setting on most devices is up to 110 dBA (a measure of decibels weighted with human hearing), which is “100 times as intense as 85 decibels.” Longer exposure and physical proximity to loud sounds can increase the risk of hearing loss. Headphones or earbuds on high volumes are very harmful to the ears because they are so close to the inner ear, or the cochlea.

In extreme cases, hearing loss can lead to major health problems. Exposure to noise can cause anxiety or depression. It can also cause cardiovascular problems such as higher blood pressure, heart disease, and increased heart rate. It is especially harmful to younger children whose brains are still developing, causing problems in learning and language. According to the CDC, even mild hearing loss can damage the ability to speak, learn or interact with others.

Although there are several risk factors, hearing loss can be easily avoided in most cases. According to the CDC, some risk factors include genetics, long-term conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and injuries to the ear. Preventions to hearing loss include simply lowering the volume of music, wearing hearing protection such as earplugs when exposed to nearby loud noises, avoiding places with harmful noise levels, or limiting exposure overall. There are some apps available to check the noise level in decibels. In fact, Apple has it built into the Health app and can notify users when they are exposed to volumes that may be damaging. Understanding and avoiding the sources of dangerously loud noise can protect one’s overall health.