I have been flying a lot lately, which means plenty of time in airport bathrooms. Many have made huge strides in cleanliness and a large number are now more eco-friendly, but they have also gotten louder – dangerously so in some cases.
If it is isn’t the deafening swoosh of the self-flushing toilets, it is the new high-speed hand dryers running perpetually. Both are high-pitched sounds, so for someone like me with relatively strong high-pitched hearing, the volumes are excruciating. What is a hearing aid wearing traveler to do?
As an environmentalist and germaphobe, I applaud many of the modern advances. Automatically flushing toilets, faucets that turn on without a touch, and hand dryers that replace paper towels have many ecological and health benefits. But as someone with hearing loss, these improvements can also be painful — my hearing aids amplifying every powerful flush and hand dryer blast.
In a busy airport rest room, the hand dryers can be running almost constantly — many clocking in at 85 decibels or more! One common model, the Xlerator, operates at 90-100 decibels according to a report by the Acoustical Society of America. The Dyson Airblade was measured at 85-90 decibels. You can read the full report here.
These noise levels are unsafe for everyone. According to It’s A Noisy Plant, a program of the National Institutes of Health, “No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure at or above 100 decibels is recommended.” You can find a useful bookmark detailing this information here.
I try to get in and out of a public restroom as quickly as possible, but that is not always possible for a women, where the line can sometimes wind out the door and around the lobby. Waits of 5-10 minutes are not uncommon, all with the swooshing water and gushing air as over zealous background noise.
I get a lot of funny looks for plugging my ears while waiting in line, especially from my teen-aged daughter, but I can’t risk the noise exposure. Occasionally I will see other people doing the same, but it is a rare occurrence. I wish more patrons would protect themselves.
So what is a busy traveler with hearing loss to do? I haven’t yet found a way to wash my hands and plug my ears at the same time, but I am working on it. Next time, I may just turn off my hearing aids for the whole experience.
Readers, do you find pubic restrooms uncomfortably loud?