Let’s face it: noise, particularly loud noise, is a nuisance and it’s here to stay. In fact it’s getting worse and with population increases and more people living in busy cities with less space trying to escape it is proving harder and harder.

According to the World Health Organisation, noise pollution is now considered one of the top environmental hazards to both physical and mental health and well-being and should be treated as a health risk similar to air pollution.  It is suspected that noise, and our body’s reaction to it, increases the production of stress hormones and can lead to increased levels of anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.  There are of course also other health risks associated with loud and prolonged exposure to loud noises, for example tinnitus, hearing damage, and hearing loss.

Dr Yutong Samuel Cai, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London stated “In the past two or three years, the links between noise pollution and mental health are becoming clearer. It seems to be motivated by both sleep disturbance and noise annoyance, which varies from person to person.” He points to a 2015 German study that found that people living next to noisy roads were 25% more likely to have symptoms of depression than people in quieter areas” (R.Godwin, Sonic Doom: The Guardian, 3rd July 2018).

But with advances in technology it’s now possible to fight back, on an individual level at least, with the use of noise cancelling technology. There are 2 distinct categories of noise protection and cancellation.  One is that of passive noise cancelling whereby the headphones or ear defenders use the best materials available to block sound from entering our ears. Over-ear defenders and ear plugs all fall in this category and have been around for a long time. You’ve probably already used them at some point in your life.  A loud air show,  in a factory, or trying to get some sleep on a flight etc.  They can block up to 20-35 dB of sound. Option two is Active Noise Cancelling headphones and the technology is steadily improving with each new model released.

So what is active noise cancelling technology (ANC) and how does it work to reduce the sounds round us? ANC and specifically its application within headphones was first created for airplane and helicopter pilots to improve their comfort, protection and ability to communicate with each other and air traffic control and airfield towers.  The headphones have various microphones on the outside listening to the noise being created, they then produce their own sound waves to counteract these thus reducing the noise and in some cases completely cancelling it out. All these can help reduce the stresses and tension created by load noises and constant background sounds. As many of the positive people projects participants suffer from depression, anxiety and stress I often wonder how this technology could help them cope better and perhaps even contribute to good overall health and well-being.

As someone who has good hearing but suffers from Tinnitus I’m often bothered by loud noises and the din of everyday life.  I’m fascinated by noise and particularly noise cancelling technology and will be purchasing a set of ANC headphones for use in my day to day life and work.  I often work in noisy offices, cafes and travel around busy towns.  I find loud and constant noises distracting and tiring and can’t wait to see what difference these types of headphones will make.  Watch this space for an update on my experiences and findings over a trial period.