IMAGE When Patrick and Nancy bought a seaside flat in Scotland, they were hoping for a peaceful retirement. Last year, builders began repair work on the ferry terminal opposite their home. Unfortunately, the work could only be done at low tide.

"They would start at 10:00 p.m. and go on for 6 hours," recalls Patrick. "The next night, they'd start an hour later for another 6 hours. The noise was tremendous."

The workmen used old and noisy equipment and left the acoustic doors that were supposed to silence the generators open. "It was stressful and we couldn't sleep," says Patrick. "Each night we'd think, 'Is this going to start again tonight?'"

How Noise Affects You Mentally and Physically

Unwanted noise that can't be controlled is a problem worth shouting about. Whether it is jack-hammering construction workers or your neighbor's 150-decibel sound system, it can result in mental and physical suffering. In addition to hearing loss, excess noise has been linked to stress, sleep disturbances, hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, and even deficits in children's learning and reading skills.

How to Combat Toxic Noise

There are several steps you can take to avoid letting noise affect you:

  • Workplace noise—If you are bothered by loud and persistent noise at work, like a bone-shaking assembly line, you can campaign for a better working environment. If that does not work, then you can wear ear plugs or other noise reducing device, learn to accept the workplace conditions, or change jobs.
  • Neighborhood noise—If you live on a main bus route and opposite a set of lights, you can move your main living room and bedroom to the back of the house, if the architecture of your home allows it. Secondary glazing, in which a second window is fitted inside the first, can cut noise too. Even if they do not bring complete silence, these actions give you a sense of control.
  • Noisy neighbors—Most people do not like to confront the person they live next to, because they fear that saying something about the noise may make the problem worse. To take some control, consider speaking to your neighbor or writing a polite letter to let the person know that there is a problem.
  • Legal action—If all else fails, you may need to take the legal route. Most cities have a department of environmental protection that will deal with noise problems. They will come and measure the noise. If it is louder than the allowable level, then they will issue a violation. If the problem is with a noisy neighbor, you may need to call the police.