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Which are the 10 Most Annoying Sounds?

What are some of the most annoying sounds? We experience all sorts of noises throughout the day but there are some we really cannot stand, and even worse, there's many that could harm your hearing. Scroll on for the 10 most annoying sounds.

Why do we find some noises unpleasant?

Noise is an inevitable part of our everyday lives and unfortunately, it can be detrimental to our hearing. However, as it can be difficult to avoid on occasions, people usually become annoyed and irritable when exposed to it.

The human brain is programmed to protect itself from any harm and to become alert and anxious when it picks up danger. Many sounds of a particular frequency and decibel level are perceived by the brain as a potential attack (such as alarms, sirens or horns) and evoke a sense of emergency. That raises the adrenaline level and increases the heart rate. If the danger is not real, as it is with many noises that we experience every day, this leads to irritation.

The human ear is sensitive to a wide range of frequencies but we hear most sounds in the 2000-4000 Hertz range. While some people may adjust to specific shrill and high pitch sounds and not lose concentration, e.g. at a noisy workplace, these sounds can be detrimental to the ear and can cause tinnitus and hearing loss. That is why it is very important not to tolerate an environment where there is constant noise. When that is unavoidable, the necessary measures should be taken in order to protect one’s hearing. In very noisy environments, ear plugs will not be sufficient protection.

Studies on annoying sounds

Various studies around the world have tried to find the reason why some noises and annoying sounds are so unpleasant compared to others. While it is true that annoyance is individual, there are some sounds that are considered universally irritating.

An experiment conducted by Trevor Cox, a professor of Acoustic Engineering at Salford University, made some interesting findings about the sounds that provoke the most irritation. Participants voted for their most annoying sounds, which included microphone feedback, babies crying and the squeaking sound of a seesaw.

Since the 2010 Football World Cup, vuvuzelas have gathered a substantial amount of resentment. A study conducted by New Scientist found out that vuvuzelas are not only annoying but also very dangerous for hearing. Listening to the sound they produce from 1 meter exposes the ear to 116 decibels. Spending more than 22 seconds in that environment is beyond the allowed work noise level.

So which are the 10 most annoying noises?

Numerous noises could be defined as irritating depending on the particular individual. Some people find sounds that others make bothersome but do not mind when they make them personally. These are some of the most common annoying sounds:

    1. Whining
    2. Eating, chewing, and slurping
    3. Snoring, sniffing and loud breathing
    4. Mobile ring tones
    5. Alarm clocks and car alarms
    6. Polystyrene rubbed together
    7. Nails or squeaky chalk against a blackboard
    8. Clicking pens
    9. Dogs barking
    10. Mosquitos and flies

What is important to note is that perception is dependent on personality and very often on mood. It may be surprising to know that many noises (from 1 to 3) are all human actions performed on a regular basis and are more connected to perceived manners and behaviour than to a specific volume or frequency level.

How can you deal with annoying sounds?

There is of course, very little we can do about some annoying sounds. We can ask the person politely to stop clicking their pen or remove ourselves from the situation.

In the case of noises which can damage our hearing then we should wear appropriate ear protection. It's surprising which noises can damage our hearing. The louder the noise the more quickly it can damage hearing and you should treat any noise over 87dB with caution.

Image of decimeter with noises and sound levelsEarplugs are a very effective way of protecting hearing. They are available in a variety of materials including foam, wax, rubber and silicone. Musicians, for example, wear custom-fitted earplugs that do not distort music or impact performance. Foam earplugs are the cheapest and can reduce sounds entering the inner ear by up to 35dB. We have a range of Hearing Protection products to help.

Online hearing test

We have also built an online hearing test so you can check your hearing in the comfort of your own home. Our free hearing test is simple, takes 3-minutes, as you will receive your results instantly. Results will indicate if you should take further action to protect your hearing.

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Author: Gary Hill

Gary our Hearing Aid ExpertGary comes from 16 years’ experience in the hearing aid industry in both manufacturing and retail. Before co-founding HearingDirect, Gary was Marketing Director for a leading global hearing aid brand; GN ReSound where he worked for the UK sales division and latterly in their global headquarters in Copenhagen. He was responsible for developing and launching major global hearing aid models, conducting extensive research into the needs of the hearing impaired community and their performance demands of hearing aids and other devices.

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