Living on a busy street, near a construction site, or across the street from an elementary school can put you on edge. The noise is loud and continuous and can serve as a consistent source of stress and anxiety.
But North America got very quiet about a year ago. And even though some regions have seen an uptick in activity, it has not resembled anything near “normal.”
The pandemic shutdowns have been good for your ears. Less noise exposure may help slow down hearing loss, which is excellent news for those concerned about hearing.
Studies found that shutdowns between March and May 2020 slashed human-generated noise by half. That includes noises like cars, planes, and schoolchildren. Even loud places like restaurants, in effect, were no longer a threat to hearing.
Noise and noise-related stress have been linked to health effects that extend beyond hearing loss. They can also contribute to trouble falling and staying asleep, cognitive problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes.
So, if you’re looking for a bright spot in the pandemic, it’s that your ears are getting rest, and there is likely a lower risk for hearing loss and a host of other conditions. Of course, there is one caveat: these aren’t normal times. You may have been spared stressful sounds, but it has certainly been replaced by the myriad stressors introduced in the past year.
A new study is underway to learn how this drop in environmental noise is affecting people. Participants are taking regular hearing tests using a smartphone app, while researchers analyze heart rate and self-reported stress levels.
The results will be published later this year.
The Lancet Commission report indicated that hearing loss in midlife is one of the most modifiable risk factors for dementia prevention. It stated that just 10 decibels of additional neighborhood noise is associated with a 36 percent higher risk for mild cognitive impairment and a 29 percent higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
The reason could be that noise activates the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in processing stress. High levels of activity in the amygdala are linked to increased inflammation.
So, the pandemic has likely offered some benefits to your ears and hearing. Unfortunately, the relief from stressful sounds, however, has been replaced by pandemic stress.
Finding ways to limit stress through mindfulness, exercise, and unplugging may help you enjoy some further noise reduction benefits.