Human Response to Noise

The ability of humans to hear decreases with age and exposure to noise. As we age, the organ that translates sound into nerve impulses slowly degenerates. Continuous exposure to loud noises can result in a permanent loss of hearing. Generally, the louder the noise, the less time it takes to induce a permanent hearing loss. Lower-frequency noise does less damage than higher-frequency sounds at the same level of loudness. However, even a partial hearing loss can severely impact an individual's ability to comprehend speech, negatively impacting that person's comfort level at social gatherings or when interacting with strangers. In children, hearing is important for learning language, and hearing loss can limit development.

Noise also affects sleep and stress levels, albeit more subtly than it affects hearing loss. Sleep disturbance can take the form of preventing sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep, causing a person to wake after falling asleep, or altering the quality of sleep. A high level of background noise, particularly if it is of variable levels, can change the stress and comfort levels of entire neighborhoods.

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