A Noisy World May Affect Health

Noise linked to poorer health including heart problems and poor sleep

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) On the way to work, in line at the grocery store, picking up the kids from school — we have to deal with noise everywhere we go. And as it turns out, these noises may affect more than just our hearing. 

A recent review found that noise has been linked to interrupted sleep and daytime sleepiness, heart disease, poorer patient outcomes and poorer performance in school.

The authors of this review noted that while new treatment options for hearing loss will become available in the next ten years, people need to take steps to prevent hearing loss.

"Protect your ears from exposure to loud noises."

This review was led by Mathias Basner, MD, with the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Basner and team did this research to determine the impact of noise on overall health.

Three research databases were reviewed for studies published between 1980 and 2013. The researchers looked at studies that examined different kinds of noise exposures, including occupational, social/recreational and environmental noise.

The researchers found that, in the US, about 22 million people are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work each year. Every year, about $242 million is spent on compensation for hearing loss disability.

While occupational noise was reported to have decreased since the 1980s, social/recreational noise was found to be on the rise. In one study, two-thirds of the young adults sampled reported that going to rock concerts or nightclubs temporarily affected their hearing or led to tinnitus (ringing in the ears). 

Environmental noise such as noise heard from aircrafts, during traffic or in public places (e.g., hospitals or grocery stores) also may affect health. The researchers found that exposure to loud noises led to a 7 to 17 percent increased risk for various health problems, including heart attack, heart disease, hypertension and stroke.

According to their review, environmental noise may also be on the rise. Hospital noise was found to have increased since the 1960s. Noise levels in hospitals now typically exceed standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The researchers noted that sounds from medical equipment, telephones or pagers, conversations, door sounds and nursing activities led to poorer patient outcomes.

For children, noise can be particularly troubling not just for their health but also for academic performance.

The researchers found more than 20 studies showing that environmental noise exposure negatively affected children’s academic performance. Children with chronic exposure to environmental noise were found to have poorer reading ability and memory and poorer performance on national standardized tests than other children.

The researchers gave some possible explanations as to why noise may affect a child’s performance. They noted that noise may make communication difficult, may make paying attention difficult, may cause increased excitement or frustration or may cause diminished sleep.

According to the WHO, about 10 percent of people on the planet are exposed to sound that could potentially cause hearing loss, and noise is the major preventable cause of hearing loss. 

The authors of this review noted that many new treatment options will be available within the next 10 years to treat hearing loss, but people need to be educated now about the potential damage that excessive noise can cause. One recommendation that they gave to prevent hearing loss included using noise-cancelling headphones in situations where you may be exposed to loud noises.

This study was published on October 29 in The Lancet.

The researchers reported no competing interests.

Review Date: 
October 31, 2013
Last Updated:
November 1, 2013