what? What?! WHAT?!?!

Diagrammatic View of the Ear

As we age, it is important to be aware of our health and fitness in general. Included in this is ensuring that we have adequate hearing ability. Not hearing well can have many implications; impaired ability to understand what is being communicated can cause individuals with hearing loss to simply withdraw from conversations. Social isolation may ensue, which is harmful to our overall health.

A recent article in AARP Bulletin discusses one of the contributing factors to hearing loss: noise. The article notes that exposure to loud noise on a regular basis has negative health effects–and these go beyond hearing impairment; the effect lessened during the pandemic as air and road traffic was reduced, but there is now a rebound.

How can noise affect our health? Noise triggers a part of our brains called the amygdala; this is the area that is responsible for analyzing threats. Loud noises are in that category. The amygdala puts the body on “high alert,” (think fight or flight) causing stress. The more stressed we are and the more often it happens the greater the negative health impact. Chronic stress is related to immune system depression, diabetes, arterial plaque build-up, psychological illness, and possibly cancer. Prolonged exposure to loud noise (by those who live near highways or airports) has been shown increase the chance of stroke; on the flipside, people who live in quieter areas have a decreased chance of stroke.

We do not always have the luxury of being able to avoid noise. Those who live in urban and suburban areas are most likely to be exposed, and it is a price to be paid to be close to work, school, community, etc. What can we do to alleviate these issues? A few solutions suggested are driving with car windows closed to cut out ambient noise, using noise-cancelling headphones when possible, making sure that hearing aids are fine-tuned, and choosing places to dine that are quieter.

As the pandemic hopefully comes under greater control, air and road traffice will return to previous levels and higher. Now is a good time to evaluate our exposure and plan for how to minimize the negative health effects. It is more than just an issue of hearing; the repercussions can touch nearly every aspect of our physical and mental health.

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