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Are Tube journeys loud enough to damage hearing?

Friday 2nd February 2018
Some sections of the London Underground generate noises loud enough to potentially damage passengers hearing, according to new research. Image: Chalabala via iStock
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Commuters and other individuals who regularly use the Tube to get around London are being warned that the loud noises generated when trains travel through the underground network could be damaging their hearing.

The BBC has produced an episode of Inside Out looking into this issue, finding that some sections of the Tube network are so loud for passengers that the noise level is similar to that of being at a rock concert.

On ten journeys in zones one and two, however, the noise level reaches over 105 decibels, which is a similar level to that when a helicopter takes off from the ground, according to the analysis from University College London (UCL) researchers.

The Central Line journey between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green was found to be the loudest of all, reaching over 109 decibels, while the stretches between Camden Town and Euston, and North Greenwich and Canary Wharf came in at more than 108 decibels.

With this louder than a power drill, an electric lawnmower or someone shouting at close range, there is a risk that being regularly exposed to noise of this level could cause long-term damage to hearing, in the form of decline in hearing function or the development of tinnitus.

In response to the concerns, Nigel Holness, director of network operations for the London Underground, stated: "While customers travelling on our network can experience noise, higher volumes tend to be for short periods of time and Health & Safety Executive guidance on noise suggests it is highly unlikely to cause any long-term damage to customers' hearing."

However, UCL's Dr Joe Sollini explained to the BBC: "Hearing loss accumulates over our lifetime. If someone was on a noisy Tube line every day for long journeys, it is perfectly possible this could increase the risk of hearing loss and potentially tinnitus."

Therefore, audiologists who are concerned that their patients may be putting their hearing at risk may want to advise that they wear ear protectors in order to safeguard their hearing for the future.

Written by James Puckle

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