5 Ways That Sound Affects the Human Body

September 9, 2022

Wellness is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days - whether it’s about yoga, veganism or mindfulness. But we don’t often give any thought to our hearing. Shouldn’t we look after our hearing wellness in the same way as we might look after our diets or our eyesight?

From work to travel, home to meeting friends, every day we encounter a whole host of sounds that have the ability to influence us positively or negatively. And it’s not just our hearing that’s affected. Even when we’re wearing noise-cancelling headphones, sound can impact both our physical and mental health in more ways than you might imagine!

So, when it comes to wellness, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Here are 5 ways that sound affects the human body…

the anatomy of the inner ear

Sound affects your circulatory system

Sound is absorbed by the ears, right? So it seems unlikely it could cause issues with your heart or blood pressure... right??

Unfortunately not! If you’re exposed to noise levels of 50 dB(a) or more at night, you could chronically increase your production of cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone), according to Noise & Health. This could lead to an increased risk of heart attacks.

What’s more, studies have shown that noise from transport can increase the blood pressure in people living in surrounding residential areas. People who live near railways are the most affected, but even if you live on a busy road you’re at risk!

Related article: Why Do Some Sounds Feel So Good?

Sound gets you in a fight or flight mode

Think way back to when human beings first walked the earth. Sound would have been vital to warn us of dangers and help us assess our surroundings. So, it’s not surprising that today, noise can still act as a stressor, quickly putting our bodies into a fight or flight mode.

In fact, it’s a little-known fact that there are two kinds of pathways sound can take in the central nervous system. One is from the inner ear to the auditory cortex. But the other leads to the reticular activating system, which ultimately links sound with brain centres that control physiological, emotional, and behavioural responses.

Related article: Why do we prefer some people’s voices over others?

Sound induced vibroacoustic disease (VAD)

It’s thought that low-frequency noise can lead to a group of symptoms termed ‘vibroacoustic disease’ (VAD) found in all sorts of workers, from pilots to restaurant workers, disc jockeys to mechanical engineers.

VAD symptoms include lesions in the nervous system, heart, blood vessel, lymphatic or respiratory tissues together with tissue reorganisation, as stated by Frontiers in Psychology. It’s all likely down to the mechanical stress caused by the vibrations of low-frequency noise.

Related article: Shut up and listen: the rise of listening bars

Sound annoyance

This one may seem obvious, but noise can be annoying. And experiments have shown that low-frequency noise is generally perceived as being more annoying than higher-frequency noise, even at low levels.

This could partly be because low-frequency sounds can easily rattle walls and objects, are more difficult to block out with noise protection devices and can even cause vibrations in the human body, particularly the chest area. Think about bass music for example - you don’t just hear it, you feel it too!

Related article: The Role of Sound in Food

Sound can affect your mental health

If you often find yourself getting annoyed by noise, you’re not alone. According to Property Reporter, 25% of adults lose sleep due to noise from neighbours! Unfortunately, a study into noise annoyance has revealed that it can contribute to depression and anxiety.

But that’s not all. Noise can also contribute towards violent reactions, addiction to loud music and personality changes. Plus, those of us who could benefit from a hearing aid but don’t have one are 50% more likely to have depression than those who do get a hearing aid, according to the American Psychological Association.

Related article: How do face masks affect our communication?

a guy with his fingers in his ears

So, where do we go from here?

Wellness and hearing go hand in hand. We experience sound both consciously and unconsciously and it affects us both physically and emotionally, whether we actually hear it or not.

So, while in-ear tech and noise-cancelling headphones certainly have their part to play, they’re not the solution to our noisy world. Instead, we need to focus on choosing and creating environments that put our hearing wellness up there alongside our physical and mental health.

Related article: First ever recorded sounds from Mars

That’s why we’re creating the Mumbli app, to help you navigate sound-friendly venues and make empowered choices about where you work, meet and date. Together, we can turn down the volume!

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