“That’s something I hate! All the noise, noise, noise, noise!”
-the Grinch from “When the Grinch Stole Christmas”
Noise, like beauty, is in the eye (or in this case ear) of the beholder. One person’s Beethoven is another’s Daft Punk. Music, voices, a child laughing, a train whistle. Sounds, or noise, have the ability to ignite a fond memory, make us smile, sing along or perhaps cover our ears. How we react to noise has to do with past experiences as well as our auditory system; so both learned and physiological. As an audiologist working in a clinical setting, I learned this anecdotally. Within one day I had two patients who had recently been fit with hearing aids react very differently to the new sounds they were hearing; namely birds chirping. One gentleman was so appreciative to hear the songbirds again, another walked in with a frown, grumbling something about the the *#@& birds were annoying.
Is there too much noise? In some respects, society is getting louder. For those who live in a large metropolitan area, this is especially true. Noise from cars, trains, and busses is more prevalent than in the suburbs or rural areas. Studies have indicated that children whose school is near heavy traffic are more prone to memory and learning difficulties than children in a quieter neighborhood. The suburbs are not immune, but the sources may be less obvious. Cells phones, iPods, and other devices deliver a seemingly endless stream of song and voice to our ear(s). How much is too much and how loud is too loud? Unless you own a dosimeter and/or a sound level meter, you may have to rely on common sense. Regardless of the sound source, if someone has to shout in order for you to hear them, it is too loud. If it’s an iPod, turn it down. If it’s a jigsaw, put on hearing protection. Sometimes it is not as obvious, and it’s the compilation of sound over time that may wear out one’s ears or nerves. Make it a point to unplug and let your ears ‘rest’ everyday.
Noise is here to stay, as the Grinch reminds us! Even if you lean towards the Grinchy side of the holiday season, chances are you will be picking up a few gifts. Keep ears in mind when you are doing this. Try to steer clear of toys with batteries, these most likely will also emit loud sounds. Even infant’s crib toys have been found to deliver a dangerously loud level of sound. Try to find toys that attract children’s attention in a different way. If you do end up giving an iPod-type gift, include some good quality earphones that block out external noise. This allows (but does not guarantee) the user to keep the volume at a lower level. Or you can go with my personal ear-friendly recommendation: a puzzle. Puzzles are great for all ages and are fun to work on together. May a puzzle of the Grinch would keep everyone happy!