Noise is an environmental pollutant and public health problem that’s not only the biggest preventable cause for hearing loss but also disrupts sleep, raises blood pressure, harms the heart and hinders children’s ability to learn, according to the authors of a literature review in The Lancet.
“[Noise’s] health effects were first recognized in occupational settings, such as weaving mills, where high levels of noise were associated with noise-induced hearing loss,” the authors noted, and noise at work continues to be one of the major causes of this type of hearing loss.
But the review also pointed to “social” noises such as highway and air traffic, construction, and other city din, as well as the harmful role of MP3-type music players blasting noise directly into the ear.
“A growing body of work is assessing the risk of hearing loss in adolescents due to personal music player use,” the authors wrote.
All this exposure to noise has been linked to such a wide range of physical and mental problems that it’s time to look at prevention strategies, they concluded.
About the review
To determine the health effects of noise, the authors reviewed medical research from 1980 to 2013. They used search words like “hearing loss,” “reading ability” and “blood pressure,” all combined with “noise.”
The researchers found that noise contributed to conditions such as:
- Hearing loss. The loss can be irreversible and have serious consequences, like a greater risk for falls and injuries from other types of accidents.
- Poor sleep. This can lead to daytime fatigue, on-the-job accidents and impaired ability to learn new tasks.
- Cardiovascular disease. Short-term studies have suggested that long-term exposure to noise affects blood pressure and heart rate and increases the release of stress hormones. Nighttime noise, in particular, is associated with stroke, vascular disease and other risk factors for heart disease.
- Irritation. Too much noise can make people angry and stressed.
- Learning difficulties. Compared to kids whose schools are quiet, children whose schools are in noisy areas do not read as well, have poorer memories and score lower on standardized tests.