The noisy Indians

India is the land that gave yoga and meditation to the world.

The noisy Indians

Say no to: High-intensity loudspeakers, especially in public places. AFP

Sarika Verma

Sarika Verma
Coordinator, IMA NISS, Gurgaon

India is the land that gave yoga and meditation to the world. Silence is therapeutic for the soul. The sound of chirping birds, the rustling of leaves, the tinkle of running water......these are a treat to the ears. Unfortunately, we modern Indians have unlearned most of this ancient wisdom, and surround ourselves with the loudest of noises: Loud music, conversations, mobile ring tones and incesssant honking.

Noise is any sound that is unpleasant to the ears. One person’s favourite music may be a terrific din to the other. 

But honking is a universal noise. Nowhere else in the world do people honk like Indians do. When the traffic light is turning yellow, when the light has just turned green, at every turn and corner, when we see someone slowing down, when someone ahead of us is alighting from a vehicle, when we're passing by, while overtaking, while wanting to overtake and sometimes just for no reason at all.

When one travels out of India, the silence takes a few days getting used to. So many cars, and no one honks. In a traffic jam, yet no one honks. A little bit of patience andself-restraint, and the city can be a lot quieter. People say, “Arrey you can't drive on Indian roads without honking.” I tried, and guess what? I succeeded! I haven't used the horn more than four times in two years, and that was to prevent someone from ramming into me. So, it is possible. We can drive without honking in India.

Intensity of sound

The unit for measuring sound pressure (or intensity) is called a decibel (dB). 0 decibel is the sound of minimum intensity which is audible in absolute silence. That means 0 dB is not absolute 0. Every 10 dB is 10 times more, that is 20 dB is hundred times and 30 dB is thousand times and 110 dB 10,000 crore more powerful sound than 0 dB. Normal spoken voice ranges from 50 to 60 decibels. Loud talk and shouting can go up to 70 dB. Exposure to sounds more than 85 dB can cause irreversible damage to our inner ear. Notably, the range of normal automobile horns is 90-112 dB. That means every time you blow the horn, you are damaging your own hearing.

Continuous exposure to high-intensity noise can result in temporary and even permanent hearing loss to human beings and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the main cause of preventable permanent deafness. Continuous exposure to high-intensity noise as well as sudden bursts of high intensity sound can lead to a host of physical, mental and social problems. 

The energy reaching the inner ear is converted to electric impulses and reaches the auditory cortex of the brain. Simultaneously, it stimulates the hypocampus and hypothalamus, thereby the autonomic nervous system and pituitary. This can explain the effects on the endocrine system and other vital systems, including cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems.  Loud sound also increases stress and the level of circulating free radicals which are cytotoxic. This explains the endothelial damage to blood vessels and also increased incidence of stroke and heart attacks.

What we can do

India is one of the noisiest countries in the world. Our cities generate a cacophony of high-intensity sounds, mainly due to the rapid but unscientific industrialisation and urbanisation processes. 

The prevention of noise generation at source is the need of the hour for which every single person has to take a decision.

Honking unnecessarily while driving vehicles, using high-intensity loudspeakers especially in public places, generating uncontrolled noise inside industrial establishments, construction sites, etc should not only be discouraged, but also avoided. Public meetings, religious festivals and other celebrations should be within tolerable noise limits. If they exceed the limits, it must be brought to the notice of the authorities. The police should be sensitised about the Noise Rules 2000 and their responsibility to make people comply.

Avoid unpleasant noises at home to ensure a peaceful and healthy life. Playing the TV very loudly, loud music from home theatre  or audio systems, running noisy home appliances for  long not only annoy but also affects  your family members, specially children pregnant women and the elderly. Also, we should be concerned about our neighbours; respect their right to privacy and good health.

Using earphone continuously for music is common.  A lot of teenagers come to ENT surgeons with high-frequency permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.  Even low-sound exposure for continuous long periods will damage the highly complex hair cells inside the cochlea. The continuous use of earphones has to be discouraged.  Apart from genetic factors, the cumulative effect of whatever sound we hear in our lifetime is the reason for developing presbycusis (old age deafness) at an early age.

If the laws addressing sound pollution are implemented efficiently, the issue can be alleviated to a large extent. 

Most people feel that they cannot bring a change. But change starts with us. Stop honking, drive with a bit more patience. Ask the driver not to honk. Educate your friends, relatives and children about the hazards of loud noises. Become a safe sound volunteer and propagate the message of safe sound in our society. Be the change.

The danger of very loud sounds

Auditory effects

  • Permanent hearing loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Aggravation of vertigo, specially in Meniere's disease

Neuropsychological effects

  • Headache
  • Increased stress
  • Memory impairment
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Decreased cognitive capacity
  • Aggravation of emotional and psychiatric disorders.

Effect on vital organs 

  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension
  • Aggravation of cardiac disease, asthma, hyperacidity
  • Increase in blood sugar
  • Infertility and sexual dysfunction
  • Abnormalities of foetus and abortions

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