Noise

More than 30 million people in the U.S. have hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise. In New York City, nearly one in six adults report ringing in their ears or hearing loss.

About 20% of New Yorkers say they are frequently disturbed by noise at home (PDF). A 2012 Health Department study found that average levels of outdoor noise at many locations around the city exceed federal and international guidelines set to protect public health.

Noise-induced hearing problems can be prevented, although they cannot be treated or cured.

Noise is measured in two ways: loudness and frequency.

Noise loudness is measured in decibels (dBA). When decibel levels go up a little, loudness goes up a lot. Noise that is 90 decibels sounds twice as loud as noise that is 80 decibels.

Noise frequency, or pitch, is measured in Hertz (Hz), or cycles per second. Most sounds are between two and 16,000 Hz. Human speech is between 500 and 2000 Hz.

Loud or high-pitched noise is the most harmful. Continuous exposure to noise above 85 dBA can damage the inner ear and lead to hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Guide to decibel levels

Loud noise can cause short-term or permanent hearing loss. Permanent hearing loss can occur from routine exposure to sounds at 85 dBA for more than eight hours a day. For sounds at higher dBA, less exposure can still lead to hearing loss. For example, regular exposure to sounds at 100 dBA for more than 15 minutes at a time can cause hearing loss, while exposure to a very loud sound, such as an explosion, can cause immediate hearing loss.

People with hearing loss often become socially isolated due to difficulty communicating and participating in social gatherings. Hearing loss is strongly associated with depression and cognitive decline.

In young children, exposure to noise can cause problems with reading comprehension, concentration, memory and attention span. Studies show a link between noise and poor academic performance in schoolchildren.

Noise in the community, even at levels that are too low to cause hearing loss, can affect mental and physical health. Long-term exposure to this type of noise can lead to:

  • Stress
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Ulcers
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems

 

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Workers in the manufacturing, transit, and construction industries are at high risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Some workers in music and sporting venues, and restaurants or bars, may also be exposed to hazardous noise levels.

Private sector employers are required to institute a hearing conservation program if workers’ noise exposure averages more than 85 dBA over an 8-hour period. These programs include:

  • Workplace noise monitoring
  • Annual hearing testing
  • Annual training on preventing hearing loss
  • Hearing protective devices with the appropriate noise reduction rating

 

How to Reduce Noise

There are several steps you can take to reduce your and your family's exposure to noise, such as:

  • Talk to your neighbors or nearby businesses about reducing noise levels. If they are still loud, call 311 or submit a noise complaint online. DEP and NYPD are the agencies in charge of enforcing NYC’s Noise Code.
  • Talk to your children about the dangers of noise and limit their exposure to noisy places.
  • Wear earplugs or earmuffs in noisy places.
  • When listening to music or using headphones, reduce the volume, limit listening time, take regular breaks and never listen at maximum volume. Heavy headphone use can contribute to hearing loss (PDF).

You can help create a quieter living space by:

  • Using heavy window curtains and throw rugs.
  • Installing double-pane windows or other sound-reducing windows.
  • Caulking and sealing air leaks to reduce the noise coming in from the outside.
  • Using quieter air conditioners and appliances and keeping them in good repair.

 

You can protect the hearing of staff and customers in your restaurant or bar with these tips:

  • Lower the volume of music in kitchen and dining areas.
  • Install design features that lessen noise, such as acoustic panels or soundproof kitchen doors. When possible, purchase quieter equipment.
  • Move noisy equipment and wait stations away from dining areas.
  • Make sure heating and air conditioning equipment work well.
  • Offer hearing protection for customers in noisy areas.
  • Review Food Matters for more restaurant safety information.

 

You can take the following steps to prevent work-relatedreduce thet risk of noise-related injuries to your employees:

  • Choose tools and machinery with the best available noise-control technologies.
  • Retrofit current equipment with damping materials or mufflers.
  • Maintain equipment to run quietly and smoothly.
  • Isolate hazardous noises with sound barriers, noise curtains or floor pads.
  • Rotate workers to reduce exposure.
  • Provide a variety of types of hearing protection and training for workers on proper use.

 

Additional Resources

More Information