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The problem of noise pollution attracts lots of attention in media, but the real impact of noise on human health remains to be established. Recent data suggest that excessive aircraft noise around airports affects the heart health of local residents.

Noise pollution is a term used to describe the human-created noise that may damage the human, animal and environmental welfare. Excessive noise represents not only an auditory disturbance in itself, but it also causes non-auditory adverse effects. It impacts normal sleep patterns, concentration, relaxation and communication.

In recent years, the noise pollution became a hot topic in popular media. The noise is also emerging as one of the main public health concerns. Since the sound information captured by the auditory system is later received and processed by different parts of the brain, it is thought that noise pollution can be an underlying stimulator for the development of a number of problems, including cognitive development of children, endocrine imbalance and cardiovascular disorders.

High level of noise does influence physiological parameters of human body

On his “Cardiovascular Effects of Noise” for the Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, Wolfgang Babisch explained that noise has a stress-inducing nature which causes it to deeply influence the functioning of the endocrine and the autonomic nervous systems. According to studies carried out by the World Health Organization, when people are exposed to high levels of noise for a short period of time, their blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac output and blood vessel constriction rates are altered. These are parameters naturally controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

Our body is designed to respond to stress and it can do so when faced with a variety of averse stimuli, noise included. The problems seem to arise in the long-term. Physiological setpoints (i.e. the values and conditions the body deems as “normal”) deregulate, and functional changes in the physiological stress mechanisms set in. This exerts an adverse effect on the vital body functions, inducing alterations in blood pressure, cardiac function, blood lipids, blood clotting factors and blood sugar levels. As a consequence, individuals will possess an increased risk of suffering from hypertension, ischemic heart disease and atherosclerosis (i.e. accumulation of fat deposits that clog the major arteries) in the future. And one of the most important things to note is that this not only affects adults, but also children.

Significant effect of noise on children is well documented

One of the first studies conducted in children, in 1968, consisted of exposing different groups to different levels of road traffic noise. Astoundingly, it was found that the school children in the group exposed to the highest level of noise had blood pressure readings that were 10 mmHg higher than usual immediately after exposure. In 1995, in Bratislava, a similar study of the effect of varying degrees of noise in school children found even more significant differences between the kids who had been exposed to low levels and those who had been exposed to high levels of noise. This confirmed the existence of a dose-response relationship. Many other studies have observed similar differences and it is known, to some extent, that blood pressure levels in infancy and adolescence can influence the blood pressure levels in adulthood. However, studies over the full age range are missing, making it difficult to predict any future health problems that children who are exposed to intense noise pollution will suffer from.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • HANSELL, A. L., BLANGIARDO, M., FORTUNATO, L., FLOUD, S., HOOGH, K. D., FECHT, D., GHOSH, R. E., LASZLO, H. E., PEARSON, C., BEALE, L., BEEVERS, S., GULLIVER, J., BEST, N., RICHARDSON, S. & ELLIOTT, P. 2013. Aircraft noise and cardiovascular disease near Heathrow airport in London: small area study. British Medical Journal, 347, f5432
  • BABISCH, W. 2006. Transportation noise and cardiovascular risk: Updated Review and synthesis of epidemiological studies indicate that the evidence has increased. Noise & Health, 8, 1-29
  • BABISCH, W. 2011. Cardiovascular Effects of Noise. Encyclopedia of Environmental Health. ISING, H. & KRUPPA, B. 2004. Health effects caused by noise: Evidence in the literature from the past 25 years. Noise & Health, 6, 5-13
  • KEMPEN, E. E. M. M. V., KRUIZE, H., BOSHUIZEN, H. C., AMELING, C. B., STAATSEN, B. A. M. & HOLLANDER, A. E. M. D. 2002. The Association between Noise Exposure and Blood Pressure and Ischemic Heart Disease: A Meta-analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110, 307-317.
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  • Photo courtesy of Charles Roberts by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/ckroberts61/394957921/