|A 2018 study revealed that aircraft and road traffic noise increases one’s risk of heart disease by up to 6% for every 10 dB. / Photo by Elizaveta Galitckaia via 123RF|
Sound is an important part of life for enjoyment, communication, and even to alert us to danger. But there are instances when sound becomes unpleasant that breaks our concentration and distracts us. It becomes a form of pollution that may not be directly fatal to human life but is something that should not be overlooked. This is because repeated exposure to noise pollution reduces the efficiency and productivity of a person. Transport vehicles, banging of doors, television sets, agricultural machines, launching of rockets, and automobile repair shops are only some of the sources of noise pollution.
Noise Pollution: An Invisible Danger
The National Geographic has considered noise pollution as an “invisible danger.” The American pay television network said that although it cannot be seen by people, noise pollution is present both under the sea and on land. It can affect the well-being and health of humans and other creatures on Earth.
Normal Sound in Decibels (dB)
New York-based science writer Temma Ehrenfeld, whose work has already appeared in several international papers, recently shared that noise pollution doesn’t just hurt a person’s hearing but also increases the risk of heart disease. She added that the normal conversation should just be about 60 dB, a loud rock concert may hit 120 dB, and a lawnmower 90 dB. As a rule, we should not raise our voice when talking to someone who is just an arm’s length away but this does not apply if you are talking inside a noisy bar. A study involving more than 2,000 restaurants in Manhattan, USA has concluded that 60% of the bars in the area are “dangerously loud” during peak hours or days. For guests, they can stay away from such noise pollution by simply leaving but it cannot be the case for people who work in such establishments. The study warned that people who may be working in noisy bars are at risk of losing their sense of hearing.
Age-Related Hearing Decline
Age-related hearing decline or hearing loss (presbycusis) is the change that the body experiences as it ages. This is why some elderly people have difficulty understanding words said to them. The person may also begin speaking in a louder voice than normal without being aware that they are doing it. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) published that approximately one in three Americans between 65 and 74 years old experience hearing loss and nearly 50% of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.
Difficulty in hearing makes it challenging to follow a doctor’s advice, hear phones, smoke alarms, and doorbells, and respond to warnings. It is also difficult to enjoy talking with friends and family, which leads to feelings of isolation.
Why Noise Pollution Increases One’s Risk of Heart Disease
Exposure to loud noise affects the whole body the moment it triggers the stress response. A 2018 study also revealed that aircraft and road traffic noise increases one’s risk of heart disease by up to 6% for every 10 dB. This is because the body perceives a possible threat and it pumps out certain hormones, such as cortisol. It also encourages inflammation in the body as if it needs to fight infection. The whole process burdens the heart. The risk will also increase if the quality of sleep is affected.
Night-time noise affects a person even if they are sleeping. Supposedly, the blood pressure falls at night to give the heart the rest it needs for sleep. However, the noise is waking up the nervous system even if the person is not conscious about it and this prevents the supposed blood pressure drop.
A study was cited saying that sleep disruption may contribute to the development of breast cancer in women living near the airport but night shift work was also associated with the disease. Exposure to noise at home that is more than 60 dB was also linked to a 21% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Cardiovascular Diseases: Statistics
Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, detailed that cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death worldwide. Countries with the highest annual number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases per 100,000 people in 2017 included Uzbekistan (724.42 deaths), Egypt (523.43), Ukraine (539.85), Azerbaijan (559.81), Turkmenistan (536.78), Afghanistan (597.03), Papua New Guinea (561.49), Madagascar (405.99), Kazakhstan (466.79), Russia (431.3), Mongolia (460.04), and Morocco (419.15).
Countries with the lowest death rate from cardiovascular disease were Peru (85.75 per 100,000 individuals), Spain (99.4), France (86.06), Israel (93.32), Japan (79.37), and Singapore (92.24). The metric was age-standardized to allow comparisons between countries.
Noise and mental functioning
A 2018 research titled “Comparing Attention and Cognitive Function in School Children across Noise Conditions: A Quasi-Experimental Study” focused on nearly 3,000 children between 9 and 10 years old. These participants were at three elementary schools with different sources of noise, such as road traffic and airport noise. Every participant was placed randomly in one or two test conditions and they performed various cognitive and attention tests while exposed to noise. The result showed that the more airplane noise the participants heard, the lower their score was on memory and reading tests. Thus, noise pollution affects people’s mental functioning.
To reduce noise pollution, Ehrenfeld believed that people should first recognize that noise is harmful and find the means to avoid it. People exposed to a noisy environment should step away for a few breaks or spend less time in that environment. The use of noise-canceling earbuds or headphones that block out the background noise is also advised. If they have to attend a loud music concert, they can also wear earplugs to keep the ears protected.
There are also ways to deal with noise pollution at home, like installing double-paned windows. You may also add carpets and rugs and wear earplugs if it’s noisy at night. If your partner snores, you may consider sleeping in separate rooms. To be considerate of others, shut your door if you have to use noisy machines.
High-intensity sound waves can cause ripples in the ear canal and disturb the fluid designed to aid communication between the brain and the ear. You may not entirely reduce the noise at home but you can employ protective measures for you and your family. Such lifestyle and environment changes do not just lower the risk of hearing loss but also prevent heart disease.