August 14, 2020

Credit: Doug Schneider / Getty Images

*This piece was originally published on February 7th, 2020

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the world has seemed a little quieter. But that doesn’t mean you’re not being inundated with noise. Whether the sound is something you chose, like music or our podcast, or something outside of your control, like traffic outside or planes overhead, it’s likely that you rarely experience true silence. According to David Owen, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World,” all that noise is permanently changing humanity’s ability to hear.”

Three Takeaways:

  • When it comes to how much noise is the right amount of noise, anything above roughly 85 decibels is thought to be in the “danger zone.” That means that doing fairly everyday things like riding in an airplane, mowing a lawn, going to a bar, or driving through a construction zone are all putting you at risk of hearing loss and other sound-related health issues. 
  • The list of side effects doctors have now correlated with living in a loud environment is lengthy. These effects include things like insomnia, low birth weight, diabetes, and even decreased life expectancy. There’s also no guarantee that leaving a loud environment and moving somewhere quieter will reverse the impact of the time spent amidst all that sound. 
  • Technology to restore and amplify hearing has made leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Thousands have made use of cochlear implants, and musicians’ hearing is even getting special attention through specific hearing aids for professional performers. Owen says there is still a long way to go, though, especially since many patients want hearing aids to be as small and unobtrusive as possible, rather than as big as they need to be to optimize sound fidelity and quality. 

More reading:

  • There is controversy about the use of cochlear implants in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Read this article from Insider to get a different perspective on what it means to live with - or without - your hearing.
  • If you'd like to learn more about how COVID-19 is impacting noise, here's a super interesting article from the New York Times.
  • Owen told us the story of an elementary school with a louder side and a quieter side - and the impact that the noise had on the students’ studies. Check out this New York Times article to learn more about what it took to address the issue, and the current fight for quieter cities. 
  • Musicians of all kinds  —  not just rock ‘n’ roll guitarists  —  are at risk of hearing loss. Read this personal story in The Atlantic about a cellist who faced a “career-ending ear injury” and how she learned to cope.

hearing loss, ears, david owen, hearing, health

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