By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
Someone just drove through my gate, where I have installed a sensor. An alarm rings in my kitchen, causing my three dogs to bark loudly and giving them enough time to prepare for an attack, assuming this guest turns out to have evil intentions. Although I realize it is normal for dogs to try and protect me, the barking drives me crazy.
The other day, as I was devouring my new Popular Science magazine, a new product caught my eye – an inexpensive decibel meter called the “Noise Indicator NI-100″ developed by 3M. The Noise Indicator helps alert the wearer to situations where noise levels exceed 85 dB, where hearing protection is recommended. If the ambient sound levels are safe, the tiny light flashes green. If sound levels are 85 dB or above, the indicator will flash red. I immediately thought of a zillion situations where I would like to know noise levels: movie theaters, mowing grass, big Harleys passing you on the freeway, blaring stereos from cars, the gas leaf blower, screaming toddlers in my clinic getting weighed on the scale, noisy family gatherings involving Charades or Pictionary, concerts, sporting events, and, of course, my barking dogs. I am definitely going to put the Noise Indicator to the test.
I sent an email to the Occupational Health and Environmental Safety division of 3M and they agreed to send me one, as well as information about their other hearing protective devices.
Our world is very noisy, but unless you have a way of measuring sound levels, you never really know how noisy. A large portion of my patients are teenagers and most of them have ear buds in their ears when I come in to the exam room. Sometimes, I can hear the music clearly, so I can just imagine the damaging sound levels they are experiencing through the ear buds. Portable music devices have limited volumes in Europe, but not in the U.S. Apparently, one of the unwritten freedoms that Americans hold dearly is the freedom to go deaf due to acoustic trauma.
Ever since I developed tinnitus about twelve year ago, I seem to be more sensitive to noise. Rather than lose my hearing due to age, I tend to hear subtle sounds more clearly. For instance, I can hear a clock tick in a different room. I hear water running outside if a hose is left on, or the first drops of rain hitting the deck. Because of my tinnitus, I often use masking sounds at bedtime. Something as simple as having a television on low volume in the background or using my iPad to access Pandora is all that it takes for me to quickly fall asleep. Incidentally, my tinnitus was caused by a viral infection in my inner ear, not from noise exposure.
I wear hearing protection when I use the chain saw, leaf blower, or mower, and I am the first to complain when one of our (adult) kids get too loud. He is a nursing home administrator so maybe he has to talk loudly all day. He definitely has moments during a heated political discussion that exceed 85 dB.
I guess I am blessed to have wonderful hearing, even though it can be too wonderful at times. I love hearing birds singing outside, but do not like when my 35-year-old African Grey parrot screeches a warning (definitely over 85 dB) because a fallen leaf blew by his cage. My tropical fish are quiet.
At night, when Silence is, indeed, Golden, I try to remember what the world was like before the constant whine and ringing of my tinnitus.
My wife is snoring. Now, where is that Noise Indicator?