You know the sounds…. Nails on a blackboard. A female scream. Squealing brakes. A baby crying. An electric drill. They all make the list. What list is that? A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed “The top ten list of the most unpleasant sounds” .
For the sake of this article, we’ll just narrow it down to the top 5. Even reading them can make you cringe. You may want to cover your ears… and you’re absolutely not alone!
Recent research explains why we have negative emotional reactions to sounds we perceive as noise. The study found that noise really does hurt much more than your hearing. Noise isn’t just bad for your ears, it’s bad for your health.
“Noise is thought to cause physical and psychological stress to the body,” according to Elizabeth Masterson, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “When you have chronic stress, it produces a chronic stress response, which can contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol. ”
Exposure to noise can raise blood pressure and high cholesterol [2’. It can also cause headaches, fatigue and irritability. Disagreeable sounds that leave us feeling annoyed or irritated can increase our blood pressure, and has been proven to even change the rhythm of our heart beat, having a negative impact on an individual’s overall health and well-being .
It’s not just the loudness of sound
It won’t come as much of a surprise that many other studies found that loud sounds are more bothersome than quiet ones. But updated research takes that a step further, showing that in addition to loudness, the type of sound is also a factor. Listeners in the study rated high-frequency sounds (between 2,000 to 5,000 Hz) as the most unpleasant. Researchers believe that the amygdala — the part of our brain that regulates emotions — takes over the auditory part of our brains when we hear noise .
This finding helps explain why we have negative reactions to unpleasant sounds we perceive as noise. Scientists hope that more research on the interaction between the amygdala and the auditory cortex will help advance knowledge and lend a better understanding of tinnitus and hyperacusis — disorders associated with sensitivity to sounds and that often accompany hearing loss .
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure
When it comes to noise, the old adage “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” certainly applies. We can all agree that noise is unwanted, even unpleasant. What we can’t agree on is which sounds are noise. Sounds that are music to one listener's ears may sound like nails on a chalkboard to someone else.
Our brains stay busy processing sound around us constantly. It has further been proven that our brains are even aware of unwelcome noise while we sleep.
Furthermore, each person’s brain differentiates between the sounds we want to hear and the noise we don’t. Which sounds are which are based on our personal listening preferences. While some of us love to listen to soothing white noise or a fan to fall asleep, others find the same sounds irritating.
How noises affect our bodies
Sounds that our brains perceive as noise increase irritability and anxiety. Increased levels of agitation increase the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies. Cortisol increases blood pressure and blood sugar while decreasing our body’s ability to fight disease. Increased stress increases cardiovascular risks. Loud sounds can even cause our hearts to beat irregularly. The medical term for this is atrial fibrillation. It is a scientific fact that loud sounds affect not only our moods, they can also impair our immune system .
So what can you do?
Unfortunately you can’t escape noise. It’s everywhere in our daily lives, often, even at work. One study found that employees working in noisy environments were less successful on memory tests and reported added levels of stress than their friends and family who work in more quiet surroundings .
This dip in overall performance is likely due to the extra workload for our brains. If you work in a loud environment, your brain has to work even harder to filter out loud noise so you can then concentrate on and complete important tasks, which leaves less energy for the rest of your brain functions.
Therefore, hearing loss brings an additional level of difficulty to this situation. Damage to the auditory nerve impairs our brain’s ability to separate speech from noise, which is why understanding speech in background noise is more difficult for someone with hearing loss. Today’s hearing aids use complex algorithms to boost speech signals in noise, making understanding speech easier for those who wear hearing aids.
You can minimize the effects, but you can’t avoid it!
Since it’s nearly impossible for you to avoid noise entirely, you can start paying attention to the sounds around you and how they make you feel. If you notice that certain sounds in your everyday life are bothersome, making simple changes could make a difference. While working, turn your chair around so you aren’t facing your coworker that constantly chews and pops gum and clips her nails. It may help to invest in a white noise machine if your neighbor’s dog barking at nothing keeps you up all night.
Furthermore, you can always wear ear plugs. Custom earplugs — the type made for your ear by a hearing professional — fit more snugly in your ear to provide protection for your ears and your overall health and wellness. It’s so crucially important that you correct your hearing loss by wearing hearing aids. Hearing aids, like Evolv AI, adjust automatically to your listening environment (in nanoseconds) using advanced algorithms to increase listening ease even in the most challenging environments.
Simply paying attention to and pinpointing exact sounds and how they make you feel will allow you to make changes accordingly. Small, subtle changes can go a long way toward improving your mood and your overall health.
If you’re concerned about the noise level around you, which lets you measure the decibel levels of your surroundings at any time. 85 decibels or more is considered detrimental to your hearing, but noise softer than that may bother you as well. If so, wearing ear protection may reduce aggravation and prevent the negative effects noise can have on your overall health.