The COVID-19 pandemic has decreased noise exposure for many, but noise pollution might move from the outside to the inside


The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted our lives. The statement rings especially true during the infamous PPKM, when the roads became empty because we (well, some of us) stayed at home, reducing our exposure to noise. 

Our world is a noisy, noisy one, with background sounds constantly tickling our ears. You may not realize this because the human brain is just like your crush — it is very good at ignoring peripheral inputs.

The decrease in traffic and outdoor human activity caused a significant noise reduction. All of the unwanted sounds that previously impacted our hearing are gone. So, our ears should be safe during this period, right?

The answer is "almost". For some people, the noise pollution they experience outside is moved inside. We are talking about headphones and other kinds of earpieces. These things localize sound into your ears, and hours of Zoom meetings force you to wear these day-long. Your boss' loud, angry voice? Only you can hear that. 

The device is also used for recreational purposes, including listening to music and watching movies. Some also listen to music while doing their tasks, further prolonging their exposure to noise. Good workaholics like us, sadly, tend to forget to rest.

Listening to some nice Mongolian folk-rock songs by the Hu sure is fun, and watching that Netflix series Emily in Paris can be refreshing (stressful if you hate "pelakor"), but as minutes of continuous sensory input become hours and hours become days, some effects are bound to take place. Often, they are not the most pleasant ones.

Health effects caused by prolonged noise exposure include but are not limited to:

1. Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the ringing, buzzing, hissing, growling, ticking, humming, drumming and any other sounds that only you can hear. While it can be caused by many things, including stress, diabetes, high blood pressure, and nerve damage, in the case of prolonged noise exposure, it is caused by damage to inner ear hair cells. Tinnitus can be temporary, and most often, it is. However, once it stays for more than three weeks, it is likely to be permanent and is among the first signs of sensorineural hearing loss.

The human ear comprises three parts, namely, the outer, middle, and inner ears. Damage caused by noise pollution usually affects the inner ear where the cochlear and vestibular systems are housed. The first one is a spiral-shaped organ responsible for hearing, while the latter comprises semi-circular canals and is responsible for maintaining one's balance. 

The hair cells, not the same one as the hair on your head, can be found in both (sort of). The ones inside the cochlea are responsible for translating vibrations in the air into the very thing your brain recognizes as sound. If the cells receive continuous abuse, they can get tired and confused, resulting in a fake signal being sent into the brain that then thinks it is a real sound. This is the very thing called tinnitus — the sound only you can hear. 

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2. Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL)
When the hair cells get too tired, they give up their lives and will never regenerate, resulting in what is called sensorineural hearing loss. It should be noted that SNHL is not only caused by exposure to noise but also diseases, aging, and injuries. SNHL is almost always permanent.

3. Hyperacusis
There are two types of hyperacusis, cochlear and vestibular. In cochlear hyperacusis, everyday sounds become perceived as louder, resulting in hypersensitivity to sounds that can lead to phonophobia. In vestibular hyperacusis, the balance system is affected, resulting in vertigo, dizziness, disequilibrium or loss of balance, and BPPV-like symptoms. Both types of hyperacusis can be caused by damage to the inner ear hair cells and, therefore, by prolonged exposure to noise.

There are many other effects of prolonged exposure to noise. Among the most common ones are respiratory agitation, racing pulse, high blood pressure, headaches, gastritis, colitis, heart attacks, stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety and hysteria, as well as disruptions to sleep schedule and memory and focus problems.

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To protect yourself from headphone induced prolonged noise exposure (phew, quite a mouthful to say, isn't it?), do:

1. Use noise-canceling earphones or headphones instead of turning the volume up to cover up outside noise.
2. Listen to music, watch movies, and join conference calls at 60 percent or below the maximum volume.
3. Not use earphones or headphones for more than an hour at a time — or for maximum protection, do the 60-60 rule; 60 minutes max a day with 60 percent of the maximum volume. The longer the duration is, the lower the volume should be.


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