Noise Annoys

Listen 49:12
A young woman plugging her ears to block out noise

(DimaBerlin/Big Stock)

On a technical level, noise and sound are the same thing: vibrating molecules that travel in waves straight to our ears. But when sound is annoying, we tend to call it noise. From garbage trucks to car alarms, shrieking babies to nails on a chalkboard, noise can be really grating and irritating. In fact, some noises are so annoying, so loud, so obnoxious that they can take a toll on our well-being and health.

On this episode — part two of our exploration of sound — we take a look at noise, how it affects us, and what we can do to reduce it. We listen to stories about a phantom beep in Brooklyn that had everybody on edge, the quest to quiet hospital alarms, and a day in the life of a noise detective.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • Last fall, a mysterious beeping noise started plaguing Brooklyn Heights — a noise that no one could identify, and no one could find. Reporter Liz Tung tells the story of how a neighborhood came together to track down the phantom beep, and why experts say noise pollution is so bad for our health. This story is based on an article originally reported by Mary Frost for the Brooklyn Eagle, “Search for the mysterious noise in Brooklyn turns into massive crowdsourced investigation.”
  • We hear from listeners about their noise pet peeves, from screeching children to ice cream trucks.
  • Alarms in hospitals are supposed to alert staff that a patient is in crisis. But too often, they blare for no reason — in fact, in the majority of cases, they are false alarms. They make patients anxious, disrupt nurses and physicians while they’re caring for other patients, and lead to burnout and alarm fatigue. A few years ago, The Pulse met researcher and pediatrician Christopher Bonafide from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He was determined to find ways to change alarms in hospitals. We check back in with him to find out what he’s learned. We also speak to nurse Meghan McNamara, who is a safety and quality specialist at the same hospital and participated in this research. We hear, too, from Joe Schlesinger, a physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a musician who has created a series of new alarms that contain layers of important information.
  • Alan Fierstein has an unusual job: He’s an “acoustic consultant,” aka a noise detective, who spends his days tracking down unwanted sounds in the noise capital of the U.S., New York City. Reporter Jad Sleiman follows Fierstein around for a day as he hunts noise in the Big Apple.

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