Our five senses, sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing are amazing; they help us navigate through the world and allow us to enjoy and savour life – without them, we wouldn’t have made it this far.
When one of our senses is damaged, other senses grow stronger to compensate, but for those of us who have lost some or part of a sensual function, these handicaps that can profoundly alter our lives and our perception.
Hearing loss, also known as permanent threshold shift, is “a sudden or gradual permanent shift in the auditory threshold caused by noise exposure, age, disease, or drugs (e.g. did you know that the chemicals in cigarettes are actually linked to hearing loss?). Our world is inundated with noise pollution and it seems that no one is left untouched.
Depending on where you live in Canada, your community of residence will vary in noise levels and some places are better than others. Smaller centres like Saskatoon or Peachland in B.C., enjoy lower-level noise environments, while those of us who live in places like Montreal, Vancouver, or Toronto live with regular noise pollution that seems get louder all the time. Sound pollution in large cities is out of control and living with it can cause noise fatigue.
According to the Noise & Health Journal, “there are at least three ways in which noise may have fatiguing effects. First, noise may contribute to a general over-stimulation. Secondly, monotonous noise has been found to have sleep-provoking effects [i.e. the hum of a vacuum to lull a baby to sleep]. Thirdly, noise may make a task more difficult and tiring to perform.”
The Canadian Hearing Society lists specific ways in which environmental noise (the din of city traffic, jackhammers, crowded restaurants) and noise by choice (loud volume at concerts, movie theatres, etc.) affects humans:
• temporary and/or permanent hearing loss
• tinnitus and/or ear fullness
• communication difficulties
• reduction in performance
• sleep disturbance, fatigue
• increase in blood pressure/hypertension
• gastrointestinal changes
• issues with learning and education
The Hearing Foundation says that hearing loss is one of the most prevalent and chronic conditions that face Canadians. According to Statistics Canada, more than one million adults across the country reported a hearing-related disability, but other studies indicate that the true number may be three million+, as those who suffer from hearing problems often under-report their condition.
For those of us who contend with constant construction, noisy traffic, loud transport trucks, trains, buses, and emergency vehicles in large centres, noise reduction is more than welcome. Noise reduction comes in many forms and caters to specific industries.
Echo Barrier, a global market leader in noise-reduction, says that “by using the latest noise control technology, site noise can be reduced to levels that were only a dream a few years ago.”
To achieve optimum acoustic performance, their sound engineers integrate geometry, mass, and sound absorption into their barriers and have specific systems for noisy situations and activities like construction and demolition sites, road and rail, and music and sporting events. Portable noise barriers are made with dense PVC (vinyl) that absorbs sound waves and are used to surround the source of the noise pollution.
There are commercial benefits to noise reduction, according to Echo Barrier, who state that reduced noise can extend site work hours which reduces operational costs and results in fewer noise complaints, and an enhanced reputation for companies that provide an improved working environment.
For those who live near highways, construction sites, and music venues, sound barriers are priceless, but noise on smaller levels are equally as irritating.
Curing the noisy restaurant
If you’ve had the (dis)pleasure of sitting in a high-ceilinged restaurant or bar with a tile or stone floor, you’ll know what it’s like to sit there with sound waves bouncing off of non-absorbent surfaces with no place to rest. When the décor does not feature absorbent materials in the design, the result can be a loud and unpleasant experience for diners and drinkers. Good interior designers will analyze rooms for sound waves and aesthetics, and offer sound-absorbing solutions.
“Carpets, soft upholstery and curtains do that job in many homes, but none of those things fits with current restaurant aesthetics,” says the Globe and Mail, “Designers end up spraying the ceilings… or installing absorptive material under table tops, where it can’t be seen.”
Kendall & Co. Interior Design and Décor in Toronto agrees. “The solution to refraction of sound waves off of hard surfaces is always textiles,” says founder Kendall MacPherson Williams. “The softer the surface, the more deadening of sound.”
He recommends fabric wallpaper, rugs, dropped ceiling panels, canvas or textile art on the walls to “trap” the sound, and adds that the addition of plants can work to reduce the noise, as well as textured wood used as wall art or a wall surface.
The key for sound reduction is absorption, no matter where you are. Practical solutions like portable PVC panels on your job site, or decorative wood, wall hangings, and pillows in restaurants are completely accessible and effective against excessive noise.
Hearing is precious and unfortunately for many, we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. As a person with permanent hearing damage, I sincerely hope that you take this incredible sense seriously and make an effort to defend it from the noise pollution that is such a formidable part of our modern world.