Noise Alert

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Noise Alert

YOUR PERSONAL HEALTH

How to protect yourself against the world’s biggest burp

(and other loud noises)

By A. T. McPhee

Natasha Welch, 15,

of Clayton, Ga.,

wigs out from the

force of a big burp

at a dB drag race.

The guy is big. I mean big, OK? Sleeveless

T-shirt. Tattoos. Long hair. Deep, gravelly

voice, like Darth Vader with a bad

cold. He’s standing next to his van and telling

me how loud he can burp. Seriously. Then he

lets one rip.

The sound is so loud, it cracks the windshield

right down the middle. Now, that’s a

burp. “Yeah,” says Bob Perillo. “I’ve cracked

’em before.”

Let me pause here to explain that I’m

standing at the starting (and finish) line of an

unusual auto competition at Maple Grove

Speedway in Mohnton, Pa. The burps I’m hear-

Current Health 2 · Copyright © by Weekly Reader Corporation

ing aren’t the ones that come from someone’s

stomach. They’re noises that come from a tangled

mass of wires, speakers, and batteries

packed into each contestant’s car. Or in

Perillo’s case, his beat-up old gray van.

Welcome to dB drag racing!

Death By Decibels

Decibel, or dB, drag racing is one of the world’s

newest competitive events. (A decibel is a measurement

of the loudness of a sound.) In the

competition, two cars at a time go head-tohead,

each trying to outburp the other. In this,

um, sport, it’s all about the dB, baby.

—KEITH SRAKOCIC (2)

A whisper measures about 20 dB. Live rock

bands can clock in at around 115 dB. A jet

engine heard close up registers about 140 dB.

Perillo’s van can blow away even a jet. His

stereo system has registered as high as 164.7

dB in a single burp. A burp is dB drag-racing

lingo for a short pulsation of sound released

from a car’s sound system. Most burps last just

a couple of seconds.

Decibel drag racers don’t sit inside their

vehicles when they burp them. No way. They

close all the doors and trigger a burp with a

remote-control device. If they sat inside the

car when they burped it, the vibrations set

off by the burp could cause severe damage to

their ears, eyes, brain, and other organs. Perillo

has seen flies on his dashboard explode during

a burp.

Sound Science

Imagine what would happen if that fly were your

eardrum. The eardrum, also called the tympanic

membrane, is a thin layer of tissue in the ear that

vibrates when struck by a sound wave. A sound

wave is a wave of energy that travels through the

air when someone or something makes a noise.

When the tympanic membrane vibrates, it

passes the vibrations to the inner ear. An

extremely loud, sudden noise, such as a nearby

explosion, can perforate, or tear, the


Noise Alert

Left: Troy Irving shows

off his sound system.

Below: Bob Perillo’s

van. Perillo cranked

up the sound high

enough to break the

windshield.

Thirty million people in the United States are

exposed to dangerous levels of noise every day. You

can protect your hearing by following these tips:

● Lower the volume when you wear headphones.

Keep the volume low enough so that a person

next to you cannot hear the sound.

● Plan to wear earplugs when you know you will

be exposed to noise for long periods of time.

Earplugs, which quiet up to 25 dB of sound, can

mean the difference between a dangerous and

a safe noise level. Always wear earplugs when

using power tools, lawn mowers, or leaf

blowers; when riding snowmobiles; or when

riding in loud motorized vehicles.

● Stay well away from the source of loud noise. If

you’re at a concert, for instance, don’t stand or

sit close to the speakers. Sound waves are

strongest near their source.

● Don’t try to drown out unwanted noise with

more noise. Don’t turn up the volume on the car

radio to help drown out traffic noise, for example.

And don’t turn up the TV while vacuuming.

● If you can’t avoid loud noise, try to limit

the time you spend exposed to the noise.

Take frequent breaks in low-noise or

noise-free areas.

Copyright © by Weekly Reader Corporation · Current Health 2

— A.T. MCPHEE


—ILLUSTRATION: LEIGH HAEGER

Sound waves enter through the outer ear. As they

travel into the auditory canal, the sound waves

vibrate the eardrum. Those vibrations, in turn, move

three tiny bones in the middle ear—the malleus,

incus, and stapes. The bones amplify sound vibrations

so that they can be sensed by the inner ear.

eardrum. When that happens, sound waves

can’t pass to the inner ear. If the damage is

severe enough, permanent deafness can result.

Even if the eardrum isn’t damaged, frequent

exposure to loud noises can still harm hearing.

It can damage sound-sensing cells, called hair

cells, in the inner ear. Each hair cell contains

40 to 100 stiff, hairlike shafts that sense sound

waves. Hair cells transform the sound waves

into nervous system impulses. These impulses

travel to the brain, which uses the signals to

identify the sound.

Damage to the hair cells can prevent them

from picking up sound waves. Continued

exposure to explosive or other loud sounds can

lead to extensive hair cell damage. This can

cause pain, ringing in the ears, and, eventually,

hearing loss, which may be permanent.

Tuned Out

Now, back at the speedway, how do those

guys pump up the volume so loud? And more

to the point, why? I asked Troy Irving.

Irving is a soft-spoken factory supervisor

from Augusta, Mich. He has outfitted his

bright yellow 1985 Dodge Caravan with batteries

that feed 32 amplifiers that send audio

signals to nine speakers. He can’t drive the van

on the road—it’s much too heavy—but, man,

can he make it burp!

An amplifier, or amp, is a device that boosts

the level of an audio signal. Small amps, like

those found in cell phones, might produce

about a half watt of power. (A watt is a measure

of electric power.) Irving’s amps pump

out a total of 130,000 watts!

For Irving, it’s all about maximum volume.

He doesn’t want the money. (There is none.) He

doesn’t want the fame. (There’s none of

that either.) “My goal,” he said, “is to have the

loudest car in the world.”

Say What?

Test your knowledge of hearing loss and its causes.

(See answers in the Teacher’s Guide.)

1. What is one of the earliest symptoms of

hearing loss?

A prolonged ear pain

B a constant ringing noise

C trouble hearing in crowds

D heavy bleeding from the inner ear


2. Which of the following statements is true?

A The use of cotton swabs to clean your

inner ears is harmless.

B By the age of 20, even healthy young

adults can no longer hear some of the

sounds that infants can.

C There is no need to use earplugs when

operating a vacuum cleaner.

D Chronic ear infections can cause only

temporary, not permanent, hearing loss.

3. What is a sign that you may be losing

your hearing?

A Everyone tells you that you mumble.

B You friends and family sound as if they

are stuttering.

C You don’t know if someone has just said

“fish” or “dish.”

D You don’t know if someone has just said

“male” or “mail.”

4. Which of the following situations is most harmful

to your hearing?

A five minutes at a rock concert

B 20 minutes at a dance club

C 30 minutes of listening to music on

your headphones

D two hours in a loud factory


Current Health 2 · Copyright © by Weekly Reader Corporation

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