Should your ICU patients wear ear plugs?

Monitoring volume in intensive care units is important for optimal patient outcomes and functioning of hospital staff. But is your hospital's ICU quiet enough?

The World Health Organization recommends hospitals keep the noise level in ICUs below 35 decibels on average, which falls somewhere between a whisper and the sound of a stream. However, many hospital ICUs significantly exceed these levels, according to research presented at the 2016 European Anaesthesiology Congress.

A researcher from a hospital based in Hasselt, Belgium, found the average decibels in the ICU to be 52.8 at night and 54.6 during the day. She also recorded peaks reaching above 80 decibels an average of 14 times per day, with the loudest peak reaching 101.1 decibels, equivalent to a motorcycle.

"The sound levels in our ICU clearly exceeded the WHO recommendations but are comparable with sound levels in other ICUs," Eveline Claes, MD, author of the research, said in a statement. "Those elevated sound levels as well as frequent sound level peaks can be responsible for the subjective feeling of noise pollution experienced by patients, nurses and doctors."

Dr. Claes suggests a practical solution, such as providing patients with ear plugs, as other measures to reduce noise pollution in ICUs, like reviewing alarm thresholds and reconfiguring equipment, may be necessary but are less practical. In the future, there may be opportunities to design alerts and hospital machinery to be significantly quieter. 

More articles on quality:

Acoustics researchers work to improve ineffecitve hospital alarms
Risk of ventilator-associated pneumonia could be lessened by better collaboration in the ICU
10 most interesting clinical research findings to know this week

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