Are you sensitive to noise? Here's how to tell


The sympathetic nervous system begins to work, increasing your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, and prompting the body to produce inflammatory cells. Over time, these changes can lead to chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and plaque build-up on the walls of your arteries.

To complicate matters, when you begin to lose the ability to hear at a particular frequency due to aging, illness, or injury, the auditory system begins to work at a faster rate and loses the ability to hear at another frequency. This over-recruitment is helpful in terms of allowing you to hear softer sounds, but it can also amplify unwanted noise.

noise canceling devices

You can close your eyes, avoid touch, and even deprive yourself of your taste buds, but you can't close your ears. They are working all the time, even, or perhaps especially, when you are sleeping. This, Brout tells me, is one reason there are no good treatments available for noise sensitivity disorders. “It's really difficult to turn down the reactivity of the nervous system when exposed to a sound that is either painful or that the brain is perceiving as threatening,” she says.

So it's no surprise that Brout is a big believer in identifying tools and equipment that can help quiet the sounds in your environment. The most obvious, of course, are earplugs, which dramatically reduce environmental noise by blocking sound waves from reaching your inner ear, the place that primes your body to react to noise in the first place. Protective earmuffs work in the same way, and they are generally more comfortable and user-friendly than earplugs. However, depending on your environment, they may not be as practical as their smaller, less noticeable companions.

“Typical foam earplugs attenuate high frequencies like the upper keys of a piano. But there are specially designed earplugs called high-fidelity or “musicians’ earplugs” that attenuate (weaken) sound equally at all frequencies,” says Meinke, who uses her ears in different environments. She uses a myriad of protective devices to protect herself – regular earmuffs or foam earplugs when she mows the lawn, earplugs with high-fidelity filters when she goes to noisy live concerts or restaurants, and earplugs when she's handling firearms. Electronic shooter's earplugs or earmuffs when detecting impulse noise.

A more sophisticated solution — and my birthday gift from my boys last year — are Bluetooth-enabled noise-canceling headphones, which emit sound waves that complement and cancel out surrounding noise. Technology allows me to listen to the latest True Crime podcast or immerse myself in Spotify's Feel Happy playlist while blocking out the sounds of my boys fighting in the same room.

“Not only do these devices reduce the physical effects of noise pollution, they also give you a sense of control over the sounds in your environment,” says Brout. “Just be sure to do your homework before you buy. Some of these devices are legitimate, and they can be a boon for people who are sensitive to sound, but others are essentially useless.

Are you worried about the sound of a car you accidentally hear while you're running, your crying baby, or your dog who needs the door open to pee? Meinke says that if you fit earplugs to match the amount of attenuation required for the listening environment, you will never be in a situation where you won't hear anything.

environmental control

Whether you use high-tech equipment or creative paraphernalia, Meinke tells me it's better to spend money upfront on effective prevention efforts than to pay downstream for hearing aids and rehabilitation. “You can modify your space to plan for the sound level you want to achieve,” she says. “Soft window coverings, fabric art on the walls, absorbent floors, acoustical ceilings. Tiles and wall treatments. All of these things can help mute sounds.

I don't have heavy curtains or sound-absorbing floors, but I now use an air purifier and white noise machine to suppress disruptive sounds during work hours in my home office. I choose meditative soundscapes on YouTube. I also asked my husband and sons for ideas about how we could collectively reduce the noise. My youngest had an idea from school. Their teachers use a web-based tool called Bouncy Balls to bring awareness to rising noise levels (other options include Too Noise Light and Calm Counter).

I pulled up Bouncy Balls on Google Chrome and watched, mesmerized, as a ton of brightly colored circles bounced around in our kitchen with ambient noise levels. When the noise got too loud, depending on my chosen sensitivity level, a noise warning from the site (not me) came up telling the boys to quiet down. Soon I started keeping my laptop in the middle of the table during meals. Yes, I know screens aren't ideal at mealtimes, but neither are conversations deafening, and it kept the noise down most nights.

Although there's no surefire solution to quieting the mind-numbing decibel levels in our home, I've found that when I use technology tools along with self-care — getting enough sleep, taking breaks, Removing yourself from the chaos – then the stressful sounds my dear boys produce becomes more manageable.