How Environmental Noise Harms The Cardiovascular System

Sound from cars, aircraft, trains, and other man-made machines is more than just annoying. It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 

More than 100 years ago, the German physician and Nobel Prize winner Robert Koch predicted that “one day mankind will have to fight the burden of noise as fiercely as plague and cholera.” He was right. While many sounds in our environments are quite pleasant, noise, defined as unwanted sound, has the potential to cause real damage to our bodies and minds.

The principal sources of environmental noise are transportation and industrial operations. Since Koch’s time, researchers have come to recognize that such noise can cause sleep disturbances, elicit anger, and trigger conditions such as tinnitus and coronary heart disease caused by reduced blood flow to the organ. Noise can also lead to memory and learning impairments in children. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that exposure to transportation-related noise—specifically from aircraft, vehicles, and trains—is responsible for the annual loss of up to 1.6 million cumulative years of healthy life among people in Western Europe.

The cardiovascular burden of traffic noise is particularly insidious, with annoyance reactions and sleep disturbances leading to an increased risk of heart disease. In addition to being associated with an increased incidence of coronary heart disease, noise may serve as an acute trigger of cardiovascular problems.   A study published earlier this year established that for nighttime deaths, noise exposure levels two hours preceding death were significantly associated with heart-related mortality.

Exposure to transportation related noise is related to the annual loss of up to 1.6 million cumulative years of healthy life among people in Western Europe – World Heath Organisation

In 2003, Wolfgang Babisch, a senior research officer at the German Federal Environmental Agency, developed the noise reaction model which describes two pathways for determining the adverse health effects induced by noise. In the first, known as the auditory/direct pathway, exposure to noise louder than 90–100 decibels (such as a jackhammer) causes inner-ear damage that can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus. In the second, the nonauditory or indirect pathway, low-level noise exposure of 50–60 decibels (such as a conversation) interferes with communication, concentration, daily activities, and sleep, resulting in annoyance, mental stress, and subsequent sympathetic and endocrine activation. It was the latter pathway that Babisch suspected was the central player for noise-induced cardiovascular effects.

Planning for a less noisy future

 

Policies should work to bring noise exposure levels in line with the new guidelines developed by the WHO, which lowered the recommendations for mean daily noise sound pressure levels to 45 decibels for aircraft noise, 53 decibels for road traffic noise, and 54 decibels for railway noise, with even stricter limits for nighttime hours, in order to reduce the burden of disease from noise.

Importantly, noise and air pollution have many of the same sources—aircraft, trains, and road vehicles. Research suggests that the direct and indirect social costs of noise and air pollution in the European Union could be nearly €1 trillion, accounting for premature death and disease. That far exceeds the costs caused by alcohol and smoking, which have been estimated to cost €50 billion– €120 billion and €540 billion, respectively. We must better understand the response to co-exposure to noise and air pollution, as well as the synergistic effects of both exposures on surrogate measures such as blood pressure and diabetes. Other open questions include the effects of cardiovascular therapy on noise- and air pollution–related cardiovascular risks and the influence of noise on circadian rhythms.

Understanding and improving sound quality is becoming ever more important in environmental noise, domestic machinery and the workplace. The intrusiveness of noise is not just about level; impulsiveness, speech intelligibility, roughness etc… can all be important to engineer a more comfortable environment.

At Ventac, we are committed to finding the solutions to deal with acoustic challenges, and delivering exceptional service and technical expertise to all of our international clients is our primary goal.  Reliability, expertise and exceptional customer service is at the core of Ventac and our expertise of the Vehicle and Industrial Noise Control markets ensures we can provide high performance acoustic solutions for every application.

If you would like to learn more about our Noise Control Solutions we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with us today on +353 (0)45 851500 or Contact Ventac

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