What Is Noise Pollution and How to Mitigate It


  • Noise pollution is a harmful or annoying level of noise – which can be a subjective measure
  • In the US, acceptable noise levels during the day are 75 dB maximum, and 70 dB at night
  • Noise pollution can have an impact on both your mental and physical health, from potential hearing damage to stress and anxiety


“Noise pollution” is becoming a word that we hear or see every day. But do you actually know what is noise pollution and what is considered as normal daily noises that may just be a little too loud to comfortably tolerate? 

Being aware of what noise pollution is, where noise pollution comes from, and how harmful it is to humans, can help us to minimize the amount of noise pollution we produce and are exposed to. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about, including how to prevent noise pollution.


Noise pollution: what is it?

Noise pollution is a harmful or annoying level of noise. This can sometimes seem a little ambiguous, since its definition is quite subjective - what may be annoying to one person, could have zero impact on another.

To gain a better idea of what would be classed as noise pollution, it can be useful to use decibel levels to assign noise with a numerical number that can be measured and compared.

Generally in the US noise is considered to be within limits if it does not exceed 75dB in the day and 70dB at night. To give you a better idea of what that actually sounds like:

  • A normal conversation is roughly 65 dB
  • A washing machine is 70 dB
  • Heavy city traffic is usually around 85 dB
  • A noisy restaurant can reach 88 dB
  • Power tools are around 90 dB


So, acceptable noise levels may actually be lower than you realize – and it might be more common than you think, with around 30 million people in the US exposed to hazardous levels of noise every day.

The impact of noise pollution can be pretty serious. Prolonged exposure to loud noise can lead to hearing loss or damage, including conditions like tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Itcan also affect your sleep, if the noise pollution is at night, and can cause stress and anxiety, leading to poor mental health.

The elderly are often at a higher risk of developing hearing damage, due to the amount of time that they have already been exposed to noise pollution during their lifetime. It can also have a big impact on the young: Living with or near to persistent loud noise can have a detrimental effect on a child’s brain development, due to the stress hormones that are produced by noise pollution. And, shockingly, high levels of noise pollution can actually prevent a baby from being able to learn their primary language, as they struggle to differentiate between the language and surrounding noises.

The different sources of noise pollution:

Noise pollution is usually the amalgamation of the general noises that we hear in everyday life, which can sometimes be louder on certain days than they are on others. It can also be generated by specific louder sounds such as loud music in people’s homes, which we wouldn’t necessarily anticipate hearing. The sources of noise pollution are usually where there is machinery being used, but nuisance noise can be created by nature too.

The loudest types of noise pollution in the UK include:

  • Traffic noise

With a car horn being able to create a 90 decibel (dB) level of noise, traffic is one of the main contributors to noise pollution, especially in larger towns and cities.

  • Air traffic noise 

Even on a peaceful summer day, we’ve probably all heard planes flying overhead and even witnessed a few of the louder military aircraft that can be nearby. A passenger aircraft can create around 130dB levels of noise depending on the height and speed that it is flying.

  • Construction sites

It’s probably no surprise that a place that operates heavy machinery is fairly high in the list of the main sources of noise pollution and with the average construction site being responsible for an average noise level of 110dB, it’s an obvious contributor to the levels of daily noise.

  • Nightlife

When the pubs and clubs close for the evening, it can be quite loud for anyone living nearby and can often cause a disturbance to sleep if the clubs close while people would usually be asleep. The average decibel level is around 110dB at closing time when people venture onto the streets.

  • Animals

It may be a surprise that animals have made it onto the list of noise pollutants and this may be because many people aren’t actually aware that they are being exposed to repeated animal noises, as the brain can almost ignore the repeated lower decibel noises such as a dog barking or birds singing. However, a dog bark can reach levels of up to 80dB and this can often be the reason why we become agitated if the dog bark becomes loud and intolerable.

Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause hearing damage – and the louder a sound is, the less amount of time it takes for it to cause hearing damage. You can generally safely be exposed to noise levels of 85 dB for 8 hours without hearing protection before you’re at risk of hearing damage, but as soon as sound levels start to increase, the amount of time it’s safe to be exposed to noise for decreases, as explained in the table below (and in more detail in our blog all about decibels):

85 decibels

Possible damage after more than 8 hours of exposure without hearing protection

91 decibels

Possible damage after 2 hours without hearing protection

100 decibels

Possible damage after 15 minutes without hearing protection

120 decibels 

Can cause immediate damage without hearing protection

Understanding the impact on hearing:

As you can see, prolonged exposure to loud noises in the form of noise pollution can have an impact on your hearing health. But as well as the risk of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus, there are also other aspects of your health and wellbeing that may be impacted by noise pollution, including:

  • Physical 

From agitation at loud or frequent noise disturbances to high blood pressure and headaches, it’s important that we’re aware of how noise pollution can cause physical issues to the human body. There have even been incidences of heart attacks in people who have become seriously agitated or stressed by noise disturbances.

  • Psychological

Noise pollution can have a negative impact on both animals and humans by causing stress, anxiety, depression, and even hysteria if they are subjected to offensive noise for too long.

  • Sleep and behavioral disorders

Any noises above 45dB can stop us from either falling asleep or having good quality sleep. This is why some people can’t fall asleep if they are sleeping in the same room as someone who snores loudly. 

  • Memory and concentration

Noise pollution can have a negative impact on memory and concentration in two ways: 

  1. If a person hasn’t been able to sleep peacefully during the night, their memory and concentration levels will suffer as a result of tiredness.
  2. If a loud or annoying repetitive noise is apparent when studying or trying to concentrate on a task, it can negatively affect a person’s ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

 So if noise pollution can affect us mentally and physically, what can we do about it?


Top tips for preventing noise pollution:

While it may be impossible to prevent noise pollution entirely, there are many ways in which we can be more mindful about the noise we are producing and also how we can combat the noise pollution that we may experience. There are also plenty of things you can do to reduce your exposure to noise pollution.


Measures to prevent noise pollution

To help prevent making noise loud enough to cause a nuisance you can:

  • Do housework during peak waking hours

To avoid being the source of noise pollution for others, it may be a good idea to carry out any household chores at a time when most people are likely to be awake and carrying out their own tasks, so that later in the day both parties aren’t disturbed by the sound of a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine. This is also true of playing music.

  • Keep your car keys accessible

If you own a car and live in an especially quiet neighborhood, it can be sensible to have your car keys on hand for those nights when your car alarm decides to go off unexpectedly.

From strong winds and rain to a pesky cat jumping onto the roof, there can be many triggers that activate your car alarm, and it can be an unbelievable level of noise pollution which can affect others if this is allowed to carry on sounding an alarm for a large portion of the night.

  • Insulate your home

Not only should you be looking to insulate your home to retain warmth, but it’s also a great idea to add some noise-absorbing insulation to your property, especially if you have children or have a noisy hobby such as playing a musical instrument.

The great thing about noise insulation is that it greatly reduces the amount of noise pollution that comes from your property into the neighborhood but also provides an extra layer of absorption for any external noises that may also disturb you from outside.


How to reduce the impact of noise pollution

To help you cope with loud noises, like traffic, snoring, and neighbors you can:

  • Wear noise-reducing earplugs: Wearing earplugs or headphones can help to limit the dB level that you are exposed to, which can help to reduce the effects that the noise has on you. 
  • Limit exposure: Minimize the time you spend in noisy environments where possible, choosing quieter routes to work for example, if possible
  • Create quiet spaces: Designate areas in your home as quiet zones – this may be the room furthest from the source of noise, for example
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Incorporating techniques like mindfulness and deep breathing into your day can help to reduce the stress caused by noise pollution
  • Maintain healthy habits: Prioritizing activities that improve your overall wellbeing, like regular exercise, adequate sleep and a balanced diet, will help to reduce stress and minimize the impact of noise


Promoting hearing health

If you often find yourself in noisy environments, it’s important to look after your hearing health with regular check-ups and screenings to catch any potential issues early. It’s also important to adopt healthy habits to protect your earplugs, like lowering the volume when listening to music through headphones or earbuds, and using ear protection like noise reduction earplugs when you’re exposed to loud noises.

Advocacy and community involvement:

Local councils or governments should be aware of the impact of noise pollution and so should have steps in place to assist with reducing this, like protecting certain areas of the community, such as parks or places of natural interest to ensure that there is a quiet place for people to visit should they need to rest their ears after experiencing heavy noise pollution in their daily lives.

Local Government should also be invested in imposing noise restrictions during certain times of the day for industries that create a lot of noise pollution, such as airports, construction sites, stadiums, and nightclubs, to ensure that people in residential areas aren’t too perturbed by the noises that these activities create.

It’s worth having a look on your local Government website to get an idea of which measures are in place for your neighborhood and how the Government pledge to control this so that you are aware of who to contact should you experience any noise pollution which causes distress or has a negative impact on your daily life.

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