It’s a bleeping, beeping noisy world we live in. It’s no secret. But relentless, unpleasant sounds are bad for our health. Such news, however, is mostly lost in the roar of everyday life. All the ringtones, text and email alerts combine with the ever-present Muzak in stores, traffic in the streets, and machinery, big and small, outdoor and in. A man was recently seen on a busy street corner talking into his cellphone as cars whipped by, as another man ran a leaf blower across the street.
The frustrated query “What?” has overtaken “Like, you know” as the most-oft uttered phrase in day-to-day “conversation.”
Consequently, given all the background, foreground, up, down and all-around noise, people compensate by being louder. Everyone is on full volume, all the time. (Because life is funny, it seems like volume tends to be inversely related to the privacy of any given exchange. Loud: What are the last four digits of your Social Security number? Louder: What do you need to see the doctor for? Loudest: “YOUR CARD HAS BEEN DECLINED. NO. I TRIED IT TWICE.”)
Research has shown that traffic noise can lead to heart disease, so it’s no surprise that a new study reveals that constantly beeping alarms in hospitals are linked to patient deaths and other dangers. While constant beeping and other hospital noises can’t be good for patients, the study looked at the effect of the noise on hospital personnel. What happens is that the alarms can lead to “noise fatigue,” the Associated Press reported, and doctors and nurses sometimes inadvertently ignore the sounds when there’s a real patient emergency.
It’s so noisy in hospitals that doctors and nurses learn to tune it out in order to do their jobs. That’s obviously too many competing beeps, if the one that’s supposed to signal “true emergency” can be ignored. (Competing noise also keeps many drivers from hearing the sirens of emergency vehicles and police, and they fail to move over.)
On the flip side of the equation, other research has found that premature infants show real health benefits from listening to lullabies and other forms of music. Hospital programs have also found music to be of great help to dying patients (and their families.) Soothing sounds and/or beautiful music are therapeutic. Constant noise is stressful and harmful. Common sense tells us it’s time to try and quiet the electronic beeping storm for our common good. Hospitals are a good place to start, so “true emergency” alarms can be heard. (And not by turning up the volume.) And all patients (and medical personnel) would benefit from healing music.