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Why is noise a silent killer?

You can’t kill what you can’t see, but what you can’t see can surely kill you. Noise is one such assassin that kills, slowly and silently without raising an alarm. How ironical. It is, after all, who create the noise that silently degenerates our mind and body. It’s quite terrifying as well, since we are endangering our lives and that of the animals on this planet by turning a deaf ear, quite literally, to all the noise around us. And, as the German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

If we look around, we will realise that we are surrounded by noise, generating from all the corners of our urban lives. Different people have different thresholds for noise. Some can’t stand the sound of a drilling machine piercing a plasterboard, while others shiver at the sound of thunder or a hacksaw making its way through a metal bar. There are still others, like the people of India, who struggle with the sound and fury of traffic and loud music. To put things into perspective, let’s see the numbers. A whisper’s decibel rate is 30, an amicable conversation is 60, a vacuum cleaner is 75, traffic is 90, a rock concert is 120, and a gunshot is 140 decibels. Research suggests that any sound above 80 decibels is harmful for us and, in India, the average decibel level is above 100 in some cities!

Soldiers wear gears to cancel out the firing sound, but we do precious little to control the decibel levels around us, even though a prolonged exposure to loud noise can severely injure our nervous system. Our home, our workplace, malls, city parks, beaches, construction sites and other public spaces, all add to the clamour that lead to adverse health effects. It may begin with the signs of depression, fatigue, and anxiety that could shapeshift into more serious issues such as tinnitus, cognitive impairment, and cardiovascular diseases in the long run. Simply put, if we work for 20 years in a city, living and commuting daily in a noisy environment, chances are, we will suffer from psychosomatic diseases or stroke during the autumn of our lives. If we go by this hypothesis, it means millions of people will suffer from this ill fate.

The worse thing about noise is its wicked and stealthy nature. That’s the reason many noise-related diseases go undiagnosed. For instance, countless people blame ageing for hearing loss, when the real reason could well be noise. The World Health Organisation in its research on ‘Burden of disease from environmental noise’, collated 10 years of data from noise sources in Europe including airports and subways to link it with the cases of tinnitus, cognitive impairment, and cardiovascular diseases. Ranking traffic as the biggest threat to our wellbeing—after air pollution—the researchers found that, “one million healthy years of life are lost each year in western Europe due to noise pollution.” This figure doesn’t include industrial noise, which makes the result more daunting.

Recreating your lifestyle around silence can help you avoid the harmful effects of noise. The idea is to maintain the balance between noise and silence.


Noise impacts our brain, even when we are asleep. Strange as it may sound, it is true. Our brain remains awake throughout the day, keeping our sensing powers alert as well. The ear, being extremely sensitive, collects sound from nearby traffic, subway, a plane or a late night party, and sends the signals to the glands that control the secretion of stress hormones and blood’s biochemistry. That can result in interrupted sleep, tiredness, headaches, weak memory, and impaired creativity among other discomfort. Imagine the plight of people living near the airports, subways, or busy roadways, who have no idea of such dire circumstances they live in. They may take sleeping pills or visit a psychiatrist, but if they don’t remove the root-cause from the equation, what will they solve anyway?

The consequences of noise have more damaging effects on children than they have on adults. Gary W Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University observed that children, studying in schools near airports or railway stations, often lose their ability to tell the difference between noise and sound, after their brain develops a stress response for all kinds of clamour. Children are also seen losing their ability to read, learn, and memorise problems. Although, various governments have relocated the airports away from the schools and colleges, the threat of noise still looms large over us all.

What can we do to make our children’s and our lives quieter and more peaceful? Perhaps, Finland’s Tourist Board has an answer. A few years ago, the tourist board of Finland ran a silence campaign to lure tourists from across the world. They compiled scenic photographs of nature with the slogan “Silence, Please”. Eva Kiviranta, the social media manager for VisitFinland.com said, “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing.” The Finland board of tourism was right in choosing silence as the theme as that was the basic need of many tourists.

Silence and noise work in opposite directions. While long exposure to noise releases stress hormones, silence soothes the brain and calms us, in fact, even more than relaxing music. A silent environment prompts cell development in the hippocampus, the region related to the formation of memory, according to a joint research conducted by experts from various universities.

Recreating your lifestyle around silence can help you avoid the harmful effects of noise. The idea is to maintain the balance between noise and silence. That can be done when we become aware of both in our environment, take action to eliminate the noise and indulge in some quiet time every now and then. But, how can we cancel out the everyday noise? By enforcing better regulations and raising awareness about the harmful effects of noise pollution, to start with. We could follow it up with planting more trees that not only absorb noise but also improve the air we inhale. Once people are cognizant of the ill-effects of noise, it’s a matter of determination, self-control and sensitivity that can help eliminate noise and save ourselves from the silent killer.

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