White noise machines are electronic devices used in both personal and professional settings that repeatedly play sounds such as an ocean tide or patterns of noise to block out unwanted noise, promote relaxation and provide privacy. However, white noise machines can make some individuals who are using personal listening devices to use high and potentially dangerous volume levels, warns the Hearing Review. White noise machines also can cause other problems.
Delayed Brain Development
White noise might delay brain development, according to the April 2003 issue of the journal Science. In an article titled "Environmental Noise Retards Auditory Cortical Development," researchers Edward F. Chang and Michael M. Merzenich explored the effects of prolonged white noise on baby rats. They found that their auditory cortex, the section of the brain responsible for hearing and language acquisition, did not develop normally until the white noise was removed.
According to the National Institutes of Health, white noise machines can mask tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus is an internal noise in the ears, such as a ring or hum. Individuals using white noise machines might be unaware of their tinnitus condition. While many individuals experience brief tinnitus because of loud ambient noises, frequent or prolonged tinnitus can reflect a larger problem such as high blood pressure or anemia.
Early, prolonged exposure to white noise might impair the brain's ability to perceive the geographic location of the sound, according to a July 2009 article in Cerebral Cortex magazine, "Early Continuous White Noise Exposure Alters Auditory Spatial Sensitivity." Shanghai-based researchers reared infant rat pups using a background of continuous white noise. They found that neurons in the auditory cortex that are responsible for spatial sensitivity were impaired.
Is This an Emergency?
- HearingReview: The Effect of White Noise on Preferred Listening Levels with a Noise-Cancellation Headset
- Howard Hughes Medical Center: White Noise Delays Auditory Organization in the Brain
- National Institutes of Health: Tinnitus
- Cerebral Cortex: Early Continuous White Noise Exposure Alters Auditory Spatial Sensitivity