Lockdown reduced noise exposure across the U.S.

Dec 27, 2020 | Blog, Coronavirus pandemic, Noise

Photo credit: fancycrave1 from Pixabay

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some months ago we wrote about Apple’s new sound monitoring features on the iWatch, and the fact that Prof. Richard Neitzel at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health was working with Apple to analyze data collected by iWatch wearers. The first report from Prof. Neitzel’s work has now appeared in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

As discussed by Fermin Koop, ZME Science, half a million daily noise readings from volunteers in Florida, California, New York, and Texas were analyzed, starting before the COVID-19 lockdowns and continuing into the lockdown period. The data showed that initial decreases in noise exposure occurred on the weekends, but as people started working from home these extended into the entire week. Average daily noise exposures dropped by about 3 decibels.

This doesn’t sound like very much, but the decibel scale is a logarithmic one like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, and a 3 decibel decrease represents approximately a halving of the noise energy level that the volunteer data collectors were exposed to.

Koop writes that the study is one of the first ones to collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. The data will now be shared with the World Health Organization and will help describe what personal sound exposures are like for Americans across different states and different ages.

“These are questions we’ve had for years and now we’re starting to have data that will allow us to answer them,” Neitzel said in a statement. “We’re thankful to the participants who contributed unprecedented amounts of data. This is data that never existed or was even possible before.”

Prof. Neitzel’s previous work found high levels of noise exposure for those living in New York City.  And a review article by Prof. Neitzel and colleagues discussed the auditory and non-auditory health consequences of excessive noise exposure, including high blood pressure.

Thanks to Prof. Neitzel and Apple for making this important citizen-science contribution possible.


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