Hospitals with concern about the noise levels in neonatal, intensive care and children's wards are our biggest customers for the noise warning sign. Babies in intensive care are particularly sensitive to high noise levels and to the increased stress that they cause.
Noise from visitors and staff is best dealt with using a device such as the SoundEar as it is not influenced by the complicated human perception of noise.
Neonatal units, like most hospital environments, tend to be very poor acoustically due hard, reflective surfaces. Beds are often closely spaced, visitors can talk loudly (especially the younger ones) and staff have to work quickly and move equipment about. Add to this the incubators being opened and closed, occasional tapping on the lid and items dropped accidentally and the noise levels soon become unpleasant for the baby. One of the biggest culprits is the alarm, which is clearly essential, but as the background noise levels get higher the alarm has to be louder still. A quieter background allows for quieter alarms.
The immediate effects of noise in the neonatal unit are reasonably clear. The baby's sleep is easily disturbed and sudden loud noises (bangs on the incubator for example) can have a startling affect on the heart rate and breathing patterns.
High and intermittent noise is also unpleasant and distracting for both staff and parents. Defined "Quiet Times", when noise and light levels are kept down, certainly help and are now used in many units.
The long term effects of noise in the NICU are not so obvious. Hearing impairment as a result of exposure to high noise levels can be expected but research over the last few years has also shown a link with language development. This seems to be related to the fact that a baby that goes full term is only exposed to lower frequency noise (< 250 Hz) during the brain and sensory development stages.
Some such research can be found in the links below.
The SoundEar II noise warning sign and its optional data logging module.