It seems anywhere you go these days that you will be affected by noise pollution. It’s almost impossible to find complete peace and quiet. There is increasing evidence that long-term environmental noise above a certain level can have a negative influence on your health. These effects can be physical, mental and possibly even disrupt children’s learning.
Recent research shows that road traffic noise and aircraft noise pollution increase the risk of high blood pressure, especially noise exposure at night. A study of aircraft noise around London’s Heathrow airport found that high levels of aircraft noise was associated with increased risks of hospital admission and death for stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease in the nearby area.
Another large study that looked at aircraft noise exposure over a much longer time period of 15 years found that deaths from heart attacks increased when the noise was louder and endured over a longer period of time. The latest estimates suggest a ten decibel average increase in aircraft noise exposure was related to an increase in high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes of between 7% and 17%.
As well as the type and volume of the sound, other factors include how much it interferes with your activities, the fear you feel associated with the source of the noise, your coping mechanisms and even your belief about whether the noise is preventable. For example, you’re likely to feel more annoyance to aircraft flying overhead if you feel the airport is taking no measures to regulate the noise. However, the impact of annoyance on long-term health isn’t clear and the evidence actually suggests mental ill-health may increase the risk of annoyance rather than the other way round.
Another important area of noise research is the effects on children’s learning. About 20 studies have found effects of either aircraft or road traffic noise on children’s reading abilities and long-term memory.
Now that we know noise can be harmful, the difficult question is why? Aircraft and traffic noise is inevitably tied to the production of air pollution but researchers usually take this into account when studying the problem and there are probably separate reasons why noise and air pollution can impact our health. The effects of particles from air pollution are largely to do with inflammation, whereas noise exposure increases stress levels leading to physiological arousal, such as raised heart rate and blood pressure.
This can lead to increases in established cardiovascular disease risk factors such as blood pressure, blood glucose concentrations, blood fats and even central obesity and eventually in some people to serious events such as heart attacks and strokes.