Growing Evidence That Noise is Bad for Your Health

Growing Evidence That Noise is Bad for Your Health

The effects of pollution on our environment have been well documented for decades. We understand that the emissions of industry, transportation, and even household waste have devastating effects on our waterways, atmosphere, and soil quality. The effects of these forms of pollution also can be traced to health outcomes. Those who live in areas exposed to industrial waste and toxic substances can have higher rates of cancer, asthma, and other chronic health conditions. Pollution is a danger to our bodies, minds, communities, and our planet.

Yet, did you know that noise pollution has been traced to similarly detrimental effects on individual health?

Studying Noise Pollution

The World Health Organization has been tasked with creating guidelines for the acceptable amounts of noise pollution in areas with human exposure. Stephen Stansfeld, a professor of psychiatry at Queen Mary University of London, brought together eight scientific studies of the effects of noise on our health. This metadata was contributed to the World Health Organization’s findings and recommendations.

In the past, the World Health Organization has recommended levels of noise for aircraft, rail, and roadways. For instance, prolonged exposure to road noise has been linked with increased risk of abdominal obesity and diabetes. Although these effects could be the result of confounding variables such as prolonged stress, road traffic noise has also been associated with an increased risk of a heart attack. Yet, in the most recent report and recommendation, they have added two new forms of noise pollution that have negative effects on our health: wind turbines and leisure noise.

The health evidence on wind turbines is still coming in. It is sure to cause annoyance for those who live close to them, and there is mounting evidence that they may have an effect on sleep. These effects are difficult to disentangle from the visual appearance of wind turbines, the low-frequency nature of their audio emissions, and the bias of study subjects when it comes to their opinions of wind power. In this case, some consider the positive effects of reduced carbon emissions associated with wind power along with the negative effects on the comfort of those who live nearby them.

On the other hand, the health effects of leisure noise have been demonstrated widely and significantly. Loud noise from leisure locations, such as nightclubs, pubs, fitness classes, live sporting events, and concerts or live music venues, as well as listening to loud music through headphones, can have a serious effect on the individual who is exposed. It is a concern that exposure to these types of noise may bring about tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Anecdotally, many people report this experience, yet they tend to find that the ringing goes away not long after the exposure stops. Researchers are investigating links with other adverse health effects for those who constantly expose themselves to leisure noise, as well as the residents who live nearby such establishments. The connection with annoyance, frustration, and stress is undeniable; those who constantly hear loud noise through their windows report these mental symptoms. The linked health effects remain unknown.

Raising Awareness on Noise Pollution

These guidelines by the World Health Organization were prepared for Europe, but they can be extended to all parts of the globe, as well. The effects of transportation noise have long been the subject of policy interventions, requiring lower noise emissions on trains, planes, and automobiles. Noise pollution for those who live nearby major transportation hubs and thoroughfares, such as airports, train yards, and freeways, undergo constant exposure, although at a lower overall level. The addition of these two new forms of noise pollution should be taken under consideration by other countries beyond Europe, as well. Wind turbines may only cause annoyance, but the possibility of noise-related health effects remains unknown.

The other addition—leisure noise—is more troubling, because many individuals subject themselves to such noise at loud levels and repeatedly over time. Those who love live music may be piling on the cognitive and physical load of loud noise day after day. If you are someone who is exposed to leisure noise on a regular basis, it may be a cue that you should have your hearing checked. Acquiring hearing assistance and protection can help keep you from encountering further health problems in the years to come.

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Posted in Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Hearing Loss Causes, News, Noise Pollution, Overall Health, Research