What Is Noise Pollution?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 20, 2024
3 min read

The term "noise pollution" refers to unwanted or annoying sounds that happen around you. Machinery, amplified music, noisy vehicles, and other things can cause it.

If it's loud or long-lasting, noise pollution can damage your hearing. It may also lead to other health problems, including headaches, sleep loss, and even high blood pressure. And it can stress you out, make you less productive, and decrease your quality of life.

Almost anything that makes sound can cause noise pollution. Common sources include:

  • Construction equipment
  • Lawn mowers and leaf blowers
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Loud speakers or stereos
  • Trucks, buses, planes, or traffic
  • Heating and air conditioning units

When you hear loud sounds, a series of reactions occurs in your body. This is called the arousal response, and it can affect many different parts of your body.

Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate go up. Your digestion slows down. Your blood vessels tighten and your muscles tense. Together, these changes make you feel alert and ready to respond to a threat, even if you're not in any danger.

The most common health problem that can result from noise pollution is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). You can get it when you’re exposed to noise over a long period, or to very loud sounds for a short time. These sounds harm sensitive parts of your inner ear, causing NIHL.

It can affect one or both ears. In some cases, the damage is permanent.

Noise pollution can also cause or worsen:

When you're pregnant, exposure to loud noises can damage your baby's hearing in the womb. There's some evidence linking noise pollution to low birth weights in babies. We need more research on this, though.

Noise pollution can also cause hearing damage and other health problems in children and teens. They’re at risk for higher resting blood pressure and stress levels.

It affects their education, too. Kids who learn in noisy areas are more likely to have trouble with reading and language skills.

To help your child avoid these issues:

Keep study time quiet. Don’t play background music while they do schoolwork. Even "white noise" can be disruptive. Noise-canceling headphones might be a good option for some kids.

Create a quiet space. Designate a quiet space for your child to do activities that require concentration, like studying. They should go elsewhere for loud playing or other noisy activities.

Sleep in silence. At bedtime, turn off any music in the house, turn down the TV, and avoid loud conversation. Try to keep your child's bedroom quiet.

You can prevent health issues caused by noise pollution. To avoid them:

Turn down the volume. Lower the volume on your television, music speakers, and especially on earbuds, headphones, and gaming headsets. Supervise young children when they use these devices, and educate older kids about the damage high volumes can cause.

Shut doors and windows. This will lessen outside noise like lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and trucks. When it's quiet, you can open the windows for ventilation.

Use ear protection. If it's loud enough that someone less than 2 feet from you must raise their voice for you to hear them, wear earplugs or earmuffs. Use them when you work at a noisy job, at concerts, and while using lawn care tools or other loud equipment.

Fix your equipment. Broken car mufflers, squeaking belts, and defective machines can cause a lot of unwanted sound.

Noise-proof your home. If it's noisy in or around your house, install noise-absorbent materials such as wall quilts, carpeting, or corkboard on ceilings, walls, or floors.