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article imageOp-Ed: White noise improves hearing? Incredibly, yes.

By Paul Wallis     Nov 12, 2019 in Environment
Basel - Hearing loss is at plague levels. WHO estimates 466 million people worldwide have hearing loss at disability levels. 1.1 billion kids are estimated to be at risk of hearing loss. Now, someone’s found a way of improving hearing.
The WHO figures are a good general background for hearing issues. The absurd, deafening noise levels in cities have been rising for decades. Everyone, in fact, is at some sort of risk of hearing loss due to the use of high-cycle machinery, excessive amplification, etc., etc.
The problem is that any degree of hearing loss can be very risky. If you can’t hear approaching traffic, or can’t identify a noise of something which might be dangerous, your reflexes will be slower.
So when a totally unexpected bit of information like “White noise improves hearing” rolls around, it’s genuinely a big deal. A bigger deal is the way white noise helps hearing, which is equally unexpected. University of Basel researchers have discovered something truly new, and a bit strange. The discovery is a first, showing how to manage overstressed auditory nerves, and, ironically, improve hearing of tones.
If this seems a bit counterintuitive, it is, but there’s some logic which makes a lot of sense when it’s spelled out:
• White noise is described by Wikipedia as a signal containing equal frequencies.
• This equalization effectively mutes the frequencies, creating a sort of sonic blur of noise. The different frequencies are inseparable.
• The auditory nerves actually become less excitable, which is what improves hearing, removing sonic clutter, and making other noises clearer.
“Over-excited auditory nerves” explains a lot. Over-sensitivity to sounds doesn’t help you hear specific sounds, obviously. The nerves evidently score an own goal by hearing too much irrelevant background and other noises. If you have hearing loss, that hardly helps. Your ears are trying too hard.
Important research in an area which needs it
This research has a vast number of applications for managing hearing loss and deterioration. To my knowledge, auditory nerves don’t get much of a mention in broad spectrum health research management. They’re only a priority for specialists, not for the market. It’s not a “fashionable” type of disability. (What an expression. How did medical research get so far from the fundamentals?) Worse, it’s not seen as a serious risk for people with hearing problems.
Now, there’s information which points the way to at least a better understanding of neurological conditions affecting hearing, and perhaps a solution for common hearing loss problems. This is a very effective first step to treatment for low-level hearing issues, for sure, and probably does have ramifications for major hearing loss conditions.
Also note – This type of neural behaviour is interesting. If nerves can reduce stress on themselves by blocking out unwanted stimuli, the research may have a lot more legs in other fields, too. Well worth exploring.
Meanwhile, back at the insane noise levels issue…
There is no “license to deafen”. There is no good reason why high-cycle noises can’t be acoustically filtered. Mufflers, acoustic baffles, and pretty basic tech can do that, easily. If it’s a choice between losing your hearing and paying $5 extra for sound blockers, it’s a no-brainer.
Industries and manufacturers need to stop counting pennies and start seeing the very big, nasty picture of hearing loss. Good production costing can drastically reduce the noise levels for very low additional manufacturing costs.
Amplifiers, too, need work. Good acoustics in amplification deliver much better quality sound, and make high level signals from amps much easier to mix and manage. Another no-brainer. Noise is noise. Racket is racket. If something needs to be heard, high noise levels are definitely not the answer.
Follow this research, check out the new recording studio technologies and much better sound systems available, and keep your hearing safe. Not that hard, is it?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Hearing loss, auditory nerves, white noise as hearing improvment therapy, hearing loss research, acousitic amplifiers and sound management
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