Extremely Loud and Incredibly Unsafe
My wife and I recently took our three sons to Benihana for dinner. It’s their favorite restaurant, thanks to the unbeatable combination of airborne food and machete-size knives.
But what I noticed was the noise: the hiss of the soy sauce on the grill, the escalating chatter of the crowd—and our young sons, who are loud beyond comprehension. Each carried a little plastic trumpet from a birthday party, so it was like being followed around by our own private South African soccer game. We finally pried the ghastly instruments from their hands.
Noise is one of the great under appreciated health hazards of our day, damaging not just our hearing, but affecting brain and heart health as well. A.J. Jacobs, author of “Drop Dead Healthy,” explains why to WSJ’s Gary Rosen.
I’ve started to become aware lately of just how loud our world is. Spend an hour listening. The chirping text messages, the droning airplanes, the flatulent trucks, the howling cable pundits, the chiming MacBooks.
And noise is no minor nuisance. It is one of the great underappreciated health hazards of our time—the secondhand smoke of our ears.
Noise pollution doesn’t get the attention of A-list diseases, but there are a few crusaders raising their voices against the onslaught. One of them is Arline Bronzaft, a professor emeritus at the City University of New York.
What’s the problem with this high-decibel world? “The most obvious one is hearing loss,” Dr. Bronzaft says. Some 26 million adults are walking around with noise-induced hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Noise also has a surprisingly potent effect on our stress level, cardiovascular system and concentration. In Paleo times, a loud noise signaled a threat, so noise triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which raises blood pressure.
A University of British Columbia review of 6,300 people who work in noisy jobs found that they suffer two to three times more heart problems than those who work in quiet settings. A former World Health Organization official estimates (with a bit of alarmism) that noise-induced strain may cause 45,000 deadly heart attacks a year.
Noise also wreaks havoc on the brain. Dr. Bronzaft conducted a landmark study at a public school in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, published in the journal Environment and Behavior in 1975. Some of the classrooms directly faced an elevated subway track. Every five minutes the students heard a train rattle by. Other classrooms were tucked on the opposite side of the building, away from the noise. The difference? By the sixth grade, the kids on the noisy side were nearly a year behind. Since then, her conclusions about the effects of noise on concentration have been backed up by a pile of other studies, on both students and adults.
After meeting Dr. Bronzaft, I pledged to turn down the volume on my own life. I started in my kids’ room. I dug out all of their beeping, yammering electronic toys and spent a half-hour putting masking tape over the plastic