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, we who create the noise that silently degenerates the mind and the 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 to 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 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 leads 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.