Understanding the sounds of the city

Sep, 02, 2021

The sounds of cities around the globe are referred to as environmental noise and include traffic, public transport, talking and flight paths, all merging to create a cacophony of sound.

Around the world, we humans are drawn to the urban environment to live and to work and are exposed to noise levels that are reaching unhealthy levels. The World Health Organisation (WHO) conducted research that deduced healthy noise levels should not exceed 55 decibels during the day and 40 decibels at night.

WHO advises noise is an underestimated threat that can cause a number of short and long term health problems such as hearing impairment, insomnia, mood swings and cardiovascular effects.

It is good to be aware of the sounds that can impact on our health

Amplifon Group - the parent company of Bay Audiology - conducted market research, surveying 88,000 people in 47 cities across 11 countries to provide valuable insights into the lifestyle choices we make and the level of noise we are exposed to as a result. This information can help us to make informed lifestyle choices to help us navigate sound.

What causes the noise?

Road traffic, conversation among people and background music are the most frequent noise sources in big cities across the world.

In New Zealand, conversations among people is the sound that reverberates through its cities.

Across the 11 countries addressed in the study, the top six contributors of noise are:

  • Roads, with Italy and Portugal ranked as the loudest (75-90 dB)
  • Conversations among people, with United States loving the sound of its voices the most and New Zealand coming in third (60-85dB)
  • Background music; Italy tops the charts here too (45-60dB)
  • Public Transport; Italy and France lead the charge (80-100dB)
  • Children are especially vocal in the United States (75-90dB)
  • Neighbours; Italy and the United States have the nosiest and Australia came in third (30-40dB)

What are the noise hazards?

Portugal, Italy, Germany and the United States are all better informed about the risks related to excessive noise exposure. However, awareness does not alter behaviours.

The study also looked at the impact various noises have on our health ranging from hearing loss, to stress and sleep disorders, to name a few.

Eating at restaurants was the noisiest activity with hearing loss and stress the most common health concerns. Portugal is the loudest place to eat out, followed by Italy and then Germany. Australia ranked 8th and New Zealand came in at 9th position.

Concerts were the second biggest noise generator with hearing loss, stress and irritability all on equal footing with regard to the health implications. Australia was the exception, they prefer to stay in, watch TV and pump up the surround sound, which can lead to sleep disorders.

What are the symptoms of noise sickness?

Almost one third of the population from 11 countries state they are exposed to high and medium–high level noise. These levels of noise exposure, almost double the rate of irritability, mood swings, nervousness and worry. Likewise, increased noise exposure is also associated with an almost doubled rate of reported insomnia and sleep disorders, concentration problems and headaches. It’s a real “noise sickness”.

The 6 top countries with the highest health issues relating to noise are ranked as follows:

United States

40% of those surveyed are exposed to high and high-medium noise which increases negative moods such as irritability and other conditions including sleep disorders by 35%.

New Zealand

37% experience high to high-medium noise with 19% experiencing negative moods versus 21% experiencing insomnia and headaches.


31% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 26% having both mood swings and concentration and sleep issues.

United Kingdom

30% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 35% having mood swings and 33% concentration and sleep issues.


30% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 30% having mood swings and 24% concentration and sleep issues.


29% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 40% experiencing mood swings and 34% concentration and sleep issues.

Interesting to see New Zealand rank so highly in terms of the health issues relating to high noise exposure. This is a good reason to look after your hearing health and have regular tests especially if you are 50+ years of age.

A man and a woman have dinner at the restaurant

How to escape the noise

Bay Audiology has looked in to different ways to help you reduce noise levels when eating out, travelling, shopping and when at home. Do take the time to seek out peace and quiet; it’s good for you. If you have concerns, take our online hearing test.

Take the test

News & Blog

Catch up on the latest news and stories on hearing health.
Learn more

Get support and advice

Request an appointment

Book now

Take an online hearing check

Take the check

Find a clinic near you

Find a clinic