Music at intolerable levels, the neighbors screaming, a dog that just won't stop barking, the loud noise caused by a motorcycle's muffler...these sounds are all part of our daily lives, bringing us at times to the brink of despair, and causing a negative impact on our physical and emotional well-being.
Some time ago I heard a story that may sound familiar to some of you. A friend decided to attend a party at one of the big clubs (the so-called "mega bars") at the Fiestas de Palmares. As she got closer, she could hear the music growing louder, feeling how it made everything in its path vibrate. Once inside, the music was so loud that holding a conversation was nearly impossible (by the way, did you know that this is a commonly used marketing strategy designed so that customers will be unable to engage in a conversation and therefore will eat and drink more?). Finally, after several hours of being exposed to such high levels of noise she went home, taking along an unrelenting "buzz" or ringing in her ears and an intense pain. The next day she decided to visit the emergency room, her diagnosis: "acute acoustic trauma" or temporary, unilateral hearing loss.
While the above example occurred as a result of being exposed to extremely high levels of noise for an extended period of time, every day we are surrounded by all types of noises at different levels, many of which go almost unnoticed in our lives. However, all of them make up what is known as noise or sound pollution, which is excessive noise or sounds that disrupt normal environmental conditions.
Noise pollution is neither a new or local issue, it is, however, a problem that is not given the necessary attention. And just how serious is it? Very serious.
Constant exposure to noises and sounds that surround us causes a gradual and progressive hearing loss that is strongly linked to the frequency and volume of such noises. In addition to causing hearing loss, strong noises may lead to other health disorders, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased stress levels, hormonal imbalance and sleep disturbances. In addition, the constant presence of noise may interfere with a person's ability to concentrate, also causing learning disabilities, mood swings and a rise in aggressive behaviors.
For example, a 200 cubic centimeters motorcycle is capable of producing a noise between 90 and 95 decibels. According to regulations established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to noise levels over 75 to 85 decibels is considered severe, this being the case for a motorcycle, and may lead to sudden hearing impairment not only in its driver but also in people who are constantly exposed to this type of noise. In addition, exposure is considered significant when noise levels range between 65 and 75 dB, moderate when they go from 55 to 65 dB and mild when the noise emitted is below 55 dB.
In Costa Rica, the country's legislation in regards to this matter is unclear and permissive and most people's response to the problem is, "too bad if it bothers you; put up with it or leave". In the face of this reality, and especially during these festive days, where parties, music, firecrackers, concerts and other forms of celebration abound, we must all be aware of the health risks that constant, high-level noises pose to our health and quality of life, as well as to that of those around us. And consider this: perhaps a little peace and quiet will make the best gift for some during this holiday season.