Quiet please! | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 29.04.2015
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Quiet please!

Germans like their peace and quiet – 60 percent report being disturbed by traffic noise and 30 percent by aircraft sounds. But noise pollution is more than annoying; it can damage your health.

We all know noise can be annoying but did you realize it can also be bad for your health? In fact, stress, sleeplessness and trouble concentrating can result from too much noise. Today on the 20th anniversary of International Noise Awareness Day, we bring you a quick list of noise pollution from annoying to damaging.


It's probably one of the quietest sounds out there, but even at just 30 to 40 decibels (dB), whispering still has the ability to disturb our sleep.

Office noise

That office chatter happening in the cubicle next to you is more than just annoying – it can disrupt your concentration. Conversations happening just one meter away can reach 60 decibels (dB) and prevent you from getting your work done. Plus, no one wants to hear what your colleague ate for lunch.

Traffic noise

For those 30 percent of Germans disturbed by traffic noise – we hear you. It turns out cars driving on a busy highway can make 80 decibels' (dB) worth of noise. At that level, constant exposure is more than just annoying; it can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular health problems.

Construction work

Listen up construction workers: wear earplugs! Proper ear protection is crucial for anyone working with jackhammers, circular saws or other loud machinery. Permanent hearing loss can result after years of exposure to these sounds which can top out at 100 dB.


Unfortunately, most fans remember just one sound from the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa: vuvuzelas. These long horns make a droning sound, which sounds like an angry swarm of bees. Vuvuzelas were used by fans to cheer on their squads but the resulting symphony of noise was anything but cheery. Sound levels reached 120 dB inside the stadiums and overpowered the soccer fans' cheers and chants.


An airplane taking off can reach high altitudes of noise. Heard from just 40 meters away, a plane creates 140 dB of sound, which can damage hearing after just a short amount of time.


A gunshot can hurt, and we're not just talking about being hit by a bullet. At 130dB, this sound will literally hurt and cause damage to a human's ears. A gunshot clocks in at a whopping 160dB, so don't pull the trigger without protection.

Nails on a chalkboard

When we describe an annoying sound we often compare it to one of the worst sounds out there: fingernails scraping a chalkboard. Even the thought of it is enough to send chills down your spine and make your ears start ringing. Why? When chalk squeaks across a chalkboard or a fork scrapes a dinner plate, it's the frequency of the sound that bothers us, not the volume. That squeaky piece of chalk can hit more than 5,000 Hertz – a frequency we associate with human shrieks. That's certainly not something we want to hear in a classroom or at the dinner table.

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