The American Journal of Public Health has published an editorial in its January, 2017 edition. Its author, a medical doctor and MBA named Daniel J. Fink, argues that prevailing concepts of "safe" levels of noise exposure are badly outdated
Two aspects of the argument are particularly interesting. One is that hearing problems are rising more quickly than the simple demographics of an aging population would indicate. For instance:
Urbanization exposes people to higher average noise levels. News reports document intermittent exposure to loud outdoor noise from yard equipment, construction, vehicles, and aircraft and to loud indoor noise, with sound levels of 90 to 100 decibels or greater in restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, concerts, sports events, and other places. Use of personal music players at high volume with earbuds or headphones is common, especially among the young.
The number of Americans with hearing loss increased from 13.2 million (6.3% of the US population) in 1971 to 20.3 million (8%) in 19915 to 48 million (15.3%) in 2011. Numbers are approximate because of methods used to study epidemiology of auditory disorders. Part of the increase is because of the growth of older age groups with a very high prevalence of hearing loss. An increase in hearing loss also occurred in those younger than 20 years. ... Higher noise levels may contribute to increased prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
The other is the editorial's argument that "secondhand noise" is this era's counterpart to the secondhand smoke, with public health consequences that need to be recognized. As Dr. Fink puts it:
In the 1950s, half of all American men smoked. When research showed that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, and other health problems, doctors and the public health community spoke out, leading to the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, decreased smoking rates, and, eventually, a largely smoke-free environment, with dramatic reductions in morbidity and mortality. People still have the right to smoke, just not where others are exposed to secondhand smoke.
A similar approach is needed for noise.... People should still be allowed to make noise, just as they are still allowed to smoke, but not where others are exposed involuntarily to their noise. Where noise may be part of the experience, for example, clubs, concerts, and sports events, warning signs should be posted and hearing protection offered. If the United States could become largely smoke-free, it can also become quieter. As with smoke-free air, a quieter environment will benefit all.