April 8th, 2016 | Ask an Audiologist | by Andreas Seelisch

Ask an Audiologist – White Noise Machine in the Workplace

What is white noise? What does a white noise machine do?

Hearing Solutions CASLPO (College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists) registered Audiology Manager, Andreas Seelisch, answers this question from an online request in social media.

The Ask an Audiologist series has addressed white noise machines before. The concerned party in that case wanted to know if using white noise machines to improve your child’s sleeping habits had the potential to cause hearing loss.

However, if you’re having a similar problem with white noise machines in your workplace read on.

Ask an Audiologist…

Help! We just got a “white noise” system installed in our office and it’s really bothering me! Can you tell me anything about the drawbacks of this white noise madness? It makes me want to go home.

Response…

“White noise” is essentially a roughly equal amount of sound at a lot of different frequencies or pitches. Because of that, it’s great at “masking” noise.

That is to say, it’s fairly effective at distracting from or covering up other sounds. It could be they implemented it to avoid distractions, such as the guy clicking his pen next to you.

It could also be to improve privacy, such as overhearing a confidential phone call or really any sensitive information. While I wouldn’t describe it as a particularly pleasant sound, it’s otherwise benign.

For example, because it’s good at “blocking out” other sounds, it’s a pretty common treatment for people who suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears). From a noise exposure prospective, our ears don’t really care about how nice or not nice a sound is for it to be harmful. They only care how loud and for how long you are exposed.

While the noise at your work sounds like it’s consistent (i.e. fairly long in duration), it would have to be louder than average speech in order to have any significant risk of damaging your hearing.

As such, the only real risk I can guess at would be associated with stress or anxiety caused by it, but that’s getting out of my realm of expertise. Because our brain is usually attuned to pay attention to new or changing information in our environment, I expect you’ll find you notice it less and less as time goes on.

The static nature of white noise makes it easier to ignore than most other changing sounds. That’s why it’s easier to fall asleep to ocean sounds than say a conversation in the hotel room next to you.

I hope that helps,

Andreas Seelisch, MSc, BHSc (Hons), Reg. CASLPO

Andreas Seelisch is a registered Audiologist with the College of Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists of Ontario. Andreas is currently working as the Audiology Manager at Hearing Solutions.

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