While many use it to help them nod off, the background buzz of white noise from television static and hairdryers could be ageing you.
Although it helps to mask background sounds, white noise may reduce a brain’s ability to adapt to incoming information, new research suggests.
Scientists found hearing white noise, even if it is not loud, speeds up the ageing process of a person’s brain by breaking down certain chemical messengers.
Study author Mouna Attarha, from the University of Iowa, said: ‘Increasing evidence shows that the brain rewires in a negative manner when it is fed random information, such as white noise.’
White noise is often recommended to tinnitus patients to cover up the incessant ringing they hear.
Tinnitus is thought to occur due to a person’s brain being unable to filter the different sounds being picked up by their ears.
The condition, which causes sufferers to hear high-pitched whines, may also occur due to patients’ brains taking longer to interpret the different stimuli being picked up by their ears, with their brains also misinterpreting these signals.
All the above is thought to occur due to a break down of certain chemical messengers in a tinnitus patient’s brain.
After reviewing animals studies, the scientists believe these same affects may occur when a human is exposed to white noise, even if the noise level is considered safe by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
They therefore conclude, in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, that both white noise and tinnitus speed up the ageing process of the brain, and the former should not be recommended as a treatment for the hearing condition.
Although the results may appear concerning, the effects of white noise have not yet been investigated in humans.
Two of the scientists behind the study also hold positions at Posit Science Corporation, which develops a technology that may benefit tinnitus sufferers and could give the researchers a conflict of interest.
This comes after an ear specialist warned last June that an entire generation is at risk of going deaf due to the under 30s listening to too much music on their phones.
According to Rosbin Syed, lead paediatric audiologist at Central Middlesex Hospital, the loud music pumped into a person’s ears can be the same decibel level as a jumbo jet taking off.
He pointed to figures that show the number of people under 30 with permanent hearing damage has been on the rise across the UK over the past decade.
The maximum safe noise level for long periods of time is generally considered to be 85 decibels. Jumbo jets taking off can be in the region of 110 decibels.
Mr Syed said: ‘It’s not hard to imagine what prolonged exposure to that sort of noise is going to do.’