We’ve been worrying about toxins in our air and water for years, but consensus is now growing in the scientific community about the hazards of too much noise. Here’s what you need to know.

The EPA defines noise pollution as any unwanted or disturbing sound that reduces your quality of life or disrupts daily activities. Traffic, barking dogs, and loud music all qualify, but it’s how noise impacts us that really matters. We are surrounded by sounds. Most aren’t harmful, and many we just tune out, but noise can affect our health. A 2014 report published by the National Institutes of Health revealed that tens of millions of Americans suffer from health issues — heart disease, disturbed sleep, increased blood pressure, hearing loss and more — because of noise exposure. “Noise is an invisible pollutant that affects our breathing, brain waves and well-being, while silence replenishes and calms,” says Poppy Szkiler, founder and managing director of Quiet Mark,a UK-based global noise-reduction product testing and awards program with which Good Housekeeping works to evaluate the sound levels of the products we test.

Decibels (dB) measure sound intensity — the more intense the sound, the higher the decibel count. So what decibel is considered noise pollution? Long exposure at 85 dB is dangerous; at 120 dB, even short exposure can do damage. Here's how some sounds score:

These simple steps can help lower your exposure to annoying and harmful noises — and get you more in tune with the good sounds around you.

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