Noise Pollution Harms Heart Health and Lowers Quality of Life - BRIGID Magazine

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Noise Pollution Harms Heart Health and Lowers Quality of Life

Image: Gabriel Matula
When it comes to the noise we experience every day, we usually don't think much about the impact it has on our bodies.

We've gotten too comfortable with perpetually chiming cellphones, buzzing leaf blowers, honking cars, blaring sirens, and rumbling airplanes overhead — to name just a few.

But our spending habits indeed reflect a desire to escape unwanted sound. As Holly Pevzner wrote in an article for Real Simple, "There are more than 500 kinds of noise-canceling headphones on, and the iPhone White Noise Lite app has been downloaded more than 10 million times."

It's time for us to make a passionate case for silence, to echo George Prochnik's call to action in his book, "In Pursuit of Silence."

Noise pollution, as declared by the Environmental Burden Disease Project, is the second largest threat to public health, after air pollution. Loud noises are directly correlated to high-stress events, which in turn restructure our brains and bodies to be more susceptible to illness. When we look at recent studies and break down the results, it is clear that noise pollution harms us in many ways.

Today, we'll focus on the ways that noise pollution harms our hearts.

How Noise Pollution Hurts the Heart

Image: Darius Bashar
Much of the research that has been done regarding noise pollution and human health involves the heart. According to the Gutenberg Health Study, individuals who experience significant noise annoyance have an increase in heart arrhythmias or atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeats). The study was published in the International Journal of Cardiology and concluded that the number one source of noise pollution in the area was from aircraft, which affected over 60% of the population.

The study pointed out that there is an association between noise annoyance and increased risk of atrial fibrillation, with noise occurring at night having the most impact on the heart's rhythm. How? Long-term exposure to loud noise annoyance, even when we're asleep and not conscious of the noise, increases our risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.

According to the World Health Organization, "about 40% of the population in EU countries is exposed to road traffic noise at levels exceeding 55dB [...] with 20% exposed to 65dB during the day [...] and more than 30% to 55dB at night" — all of which are over the recommended 30dB during the night and 35dB during the day.

Why is this important?

  • When exposed to chronic noise and chronic annoyance due to noise, the body becomes "hyped up" on stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which means it's continually in a fight or flight state. Over time, this leads to hypertension (aka high blood pressure). Hypertension can then lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and so on.
  • The excessive release of stress hormones eventually causes the brain to become restructured, according to a study published in Molecular Psychiatry. This can contribute to conditions like heart disease, respiratory disorders, and the development of cancer. 
  • Cognitive tasks are harder to perform in open concept work environments where low-level noise is uncontrolled, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. This can lead to diminished performance and reduced motivation.

In addition to adverse effects on the heart, the longer an individual is exposed to chronic noise, the more significant their emotional response becomes. Eventually, the noise will create irritation, dissatisfaction, and discomfort. Some researchers have also shown a strong correlation between chronic exposure to noise and the development of depression and anxiety.

The harmful effects of noise extend to children as well. Bridget M. Shield, in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, cites previous research showing "that noise has detrimental effects upon children's performance at school, including reduced memory, motivation, and reading ability."

Solutions to Noise Pollution: Things You Can Do Today

Whether you want to choose something drastic, like moving out of the city, or start small, like wearing earplugs, getting some much-needed quiet time will increase your physical wellbeing. Luckily, there are a ton of solutions you can implement to reduce noise pollution, both within your home and within the external environment.

Choose to wear headphones when you are listening to music, turn your television off at night, avoid talking loudly on the phone in public places, and choose brands of electronics that have noise-dampening or noise-cancelling technology. One product frequently seen on airplane passengers and mass transit commuters these days is the Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones.

Other than this, choose to do regular noise detoxes. Get out of the city and into surroundings that promote peace and relaxation. Whether this is a silent retreat, a trip to a quiet mountain cabin getaway, or a hike in the woods with friends. Choose to remove yourself from noise whenever possible and encourage others to turn down the volume.

Several sites recommend yoga and meditation to combat the stress of noise. But practicing yoga or meditation while the noise is still going can actually make annoyance and frustration worse. The best thing to do is leave the situation if at all possible.

Last but not least, here is a link to eight sound proofing secrets for a quieter home.

by Chantelle Clark

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