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  • Charlene Coetzee

The problem of noise

Noise. No one likes it. Most of us must put up with it. Few people however realise that the World Health Organisation considers noise pollution as the second most dangerous environmental risk factor for humans after air pollution.

The most common effect of loud noise is Noise Induced Hearing Loss. In addition, though, loud noise also causes high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disturbance and stress. Furthermore, noise seems to decrease our work productivity. For instance, you are one third less productive in an open plan office than in quiet.

There is clearly a need to raise awareness of the dangers and effects of noise and a need to design our world to best address this. One fine example is the Japanese developer Eiji Nakatsu who helped design the Japanese bullet train in the 90’s. He found inspiration from nature when the design team faced challenges with noise. Whenever the train exited the tunnel, there was a loud sonic boom (created by compressed air at the front of the train) that could be heard 400 meters away. Having noticed Kingfisher birds hardly made a splash when entering the water, Nakatsu re-modelled the front of the train to a Kingfisher’s beak and reduced noise significantly. He also re-designed the rig (the connection between the train and overhead rail) to use the same serrations and curvature of owl’s feathers on its primary wings to mimic its effective noise-dampening.

In the world of Audiology, managing noise effectively is crucial. People suffering with hearing loss face extra challenges to understand speech whenever there is noise present. For this reason, current hearing aid technology features sophisticated noise management systems to try to address this. However, I have yet to hear of a manufacturer that has followed Nakatsu’s suit to draw on nature’s brilliant designs. It would be grand if we could mimic the astonishing way Emperor penguins are able to hear their partner’s unique call among the cacophony of thousands other penguin calls! Imagine being able to focus so precisely on specific sound despite excessive noise.

Penguins aside, what can YOU do about noise today? Here are a few tips:

1. Get professional ear defenders. Many have special filters so you can still hear speech, and some are geared uniquely for music. Speak to Farnham Hearing for excellent advice and provision of these.

2. Use good quality headphones; over the ear is best. Then you are not so tempted to jack up the volume too much and if it has noise cancelling properties, even better. A good rule of thumb though is: “if you can’t hear someone speaking to you in a loud voice, then the headphones are too loud!”

3. Finally, move away from noise if it is loud or unpleasant. It’s okay to stick your fingers in your ears sometimes!

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Now grab your tuning fork!

-An article for doctors in General Practice: How to spot Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) is one of the few sensorineural (inner ear) losses known to b


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