When we hear the word pollution, our minds default to oil spills, smoke pushing out from factory chimneys, cars in morning traffic, or pesticides. All of these images are accurate and deserve our attention, and we should also acknowledge another pollutant that disturbs the very rhythm of life: noise.  

Noise pollution is harmful or annoying levels of noise that disrupt quality of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls the problem an underestimated threat. Its impacts to humans and other living things remain underestimated.

Mimi Hearing Technologies—with whom HHF teams up with for World Hearing Day annually—along with the WHO and Norwegian research organization Sintef conducted a study to quantify the risk of noise pollution. The results showed on average, a person living in the world’s loudest cities has hearing loss equivalent to that of someone 10-20 years older. Researchers also calculated a 64% correlation between hearing loss and noise pollution, The Guardian reports.

All of our systems work under the influence of rhythm, the arrangement of sound as it moves through time. Airplanes, electronics, traffic, construction, sirens, trains, poor building acoustics, and other sources of loud noise contribute to drowning out life’s natural rhythm.

As a society, we have become accustomed to a world with a constant buzz and general loudness, but at what cost? We know that noise can cause hearing loss, tinnitus, and related conditions. Left untreated, these conditions increase the risk of depression, cognitive decline, dementia, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, and fatigue.

Even wildlife has been profoundly affected by the constant humming of this planet. Animals rely heavily on the ability to hear for survival; to hunt, mate and flee danger requires sensitivity to sound, sound that is becoming harder for wildlife to distinguish.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported in 2018 that noise pollution causes chronic stress to birds, the physiological symptoms of which are comparable to a human suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.