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Noise Pollution Can Shatter Environment, Hearing, Nerves

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RALEIGH — Noise can be one of the most noxious forms of pollution. It can gradually rob you of your hearing and shatter your nerves and concentration. Research shows that hearing loss is hitting a much younger population these days. In response, local governments are passing new laws to silence the noise and people are seeking refuge from the roar.

Inside, outside, everywhere we turn, the blare of modern society battles for our attention. Researchers say our ears are taking a pounding.

"When you come from a concert or use a chain saw, it can make our ears ring, and that's a warning sign," says audiologist Rhea Gage.

But many ignore that warning, which is why people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are losing their hearing sooner.

People complain that things just do not sound as clear as they used to.

Gage says loud music may be partly to blame for baby boomers' complaints, but there are other culprits as well. Among them Gage lists: leaf blowers, lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, motorcycles, Ski-Doos, and hunters' guns.

Hunting has taken its toll on Cole Rimmer's hearing. "Well, my favorite word was 'Huh?' because I couldn't hear what people were saying, and it became increasingly frustrating in business meetings."

Rimmer now uses a hearing aid, but wishes he had used adequate ear protection before.

Others treated at a North Raleigh clinic feel the same. Some of them lost their hearing after years of exposure to loud equipment.

"They would have to speak loud to me and half the time I didn't hear what they said," says street worker Ned Simms. "I could hear something, but it was muffled. It was not clear to me."

Psychologists say noise pollution is much more complicated than boom boxes blasting our eardrums. They say we all need to be more sensitive about the noise we generate at home, work and school.

Researchers say a noisy classroom wreaks havoc on students with Attention Deficit Disorder.

"Children can get headaches, stomachaches, even ulcers," says psychologist Dr. Debbie Neel. "Noise can create anxiety and depression just by an overload of stimuli coming in."

Many people have reached the breaking point when it comes to noise. Nationwide, there is a growing movement to escape the clamor.

Cary resident Jerry Slaymaker went on a three-day silent retreat with a Presbyterian church group.

"It is important, I think, to seek out a refuge, a place and space where you have time without that noisy intrusion to think, to reflect, and get in touch with the inner voice from God or some other source and really listen," Slaymaker says.

Out of the silence, Slaymaker says he gained a sense of inner peace. And that has helped him cope with whatever the noisy, busy world sends his way.


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