Can Noise Make Us Sick?

Noise doesn’t have to be loud to affect us.  It can interfere with thought, communication, performance, and sleep.  At much lower levels than those that damage hearing, noise causes changes in sleep, blood pressure, and digestion, and may accelerate aging.  It can cause sleeplessness, distraction, lowered work productivity, headaches, loss of appetite, irritability, and depression.

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Effects on Learning and Behavior

In a monotonous job setting like a production line in a factory, music may be helpful, but people whose jobs require complex mental tasks work less efficiently in a noisy setting. Numerous studies show workers’ performance decreases with noise. Even among students, those in noisy environments score less in reading and language than their peers from quieter environments. According to research, noise from aircraft adversely affected learning abilities in children. Also, traffic noise, while less noisy than jet planes, can have long-term debilitating effects. One study showed school children living in the lower floors of buildings near heavy traffic have significantly lower reading scores than those children living on the higher floors.

People in noisy environments show greater aggression and hostility. A new report by the European Environment Agency shows 65 percent of Europeans are exposed to noise levels known to cause aggressive behavior and sleep dysfunction. Noise even drives people to murder and suicide. There are reports of noise-related murders in some countries. Research also shows an increase in nervous disorders among people living close to airports.

Noise causes stress.
Noise triggers strong stress reactions, including changes in heart rate and rhythm, a rise in blood cholesterol levels, as well as digestive upsets.  Noise has been linked to certain stress-related problems, such as hypertension, ulcer, headache, and colitis.  Long-term noise exposure is strongly linked to high blood pressure and may play a role in cardiovascular diseases.
The sounds of amplified music or roaring jet engines do go straight to your heart.  Your heart rate goes up because loud noises switch on our “fight or flight” mechanism.  Sustained exposure to loud and disturbing sounds means that the body produces a steady stream of adrenaline, a state that can lead to hypertension.  A German study in 1992 revealed that one in six Germans had a 20 percent higher risk of heart attack as a result of daily noise level exposures of 65 decibels.
In Munich, Germany, significant increase in blood pressure and stress hormones were experienced by children living in an area under the flight path of the nearby airport.  The constant roar from jet aircraft can seriously affect the health and psychological wellbeing of children, according to U.S.-based study.
Gary Evans, an environmental psychologist says, “This study is probably the most definitive proof that noise causes stress and is harmful to humans.”  Elevated blood pressure in childhood predicts high blood pressure later in life.  Boosts in stress hormones are dangerous because these hormones are linked to adult illnesses, including high blood pressure, elevated lipids and cholesterol, heart disease, and reduction in the body’s supply of disease-fighting immune cells.