How noise pollution is affecting your health

By Kelly Jirsa

How noise pollution is affecting your health
Evidence suggests that exposure to noise pollution over a certain level has adverse effects on health.

Research from several studies is showing a link between increased risk of high blood pressure where there is exposure to road traffic and aircraft noise. A study spanning 15 years found that the rate of heart attack and stroke related deaths correlated with prolonged exposure and increasingly higher volumes of environmental noise.

The negative emotions arising from harmful environmental noise such as “disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance”, affect people to varying degrees. Whatever the degree of feeling, psychologically these conditions produce the effect of having one’s privacy intruded on.

“Governments should consider the protection of populations from community noise as an integral part of their policy for environmental protection.”

Guidelines for Community Noise, WHO

WHO’s Work on Noise

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised the harmful effects of noise pollution. In their ‘Guidelines for Community Noise’ report, published in 1999, they outlined the seven categories of adverse health effects of noise pollution on human health.

The identified effects are as follows:

Noise-induced hearing impairment – Irreversible hearing damage is an occupational hazard worldwide. Environmental noise is now an increasing risk factor for hearing impairment.

Interference with Speech Communication – difficultly with speech comprehension has long-lasting effects on behaviour including problems with concentration, fatigue, uncertainty and lack of self-confidence, irritation, misunderstandings, decreased working capacity, problems in human relations, and a number of stress reactions.

Sleep disturbance – As documented widely, the lack of adequate and quality sleep has after effects that include increased fatigue, depressed mood or well being, and decreased performance.

Cardiovascular and physiological effects – Acute noise exposures activate the autonomic and hormonal systems, leading in increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and vasoconstriction.

Mental health effects – Environmental noise can accelerate and intensify the development of latent mental disorder. This could include including anxiety, emotional stress, nervous complaints, nausea, headaches, instability, argumentativeness, sexual impotency, changes in mood, and increase in social conflicts.

Effects of noise on performance – Studies show that workers exposed to occupational noise adversely affects cognitive task performance. In children, studies show environmental noise impairs a number of cognitive and motivational parameters.

Residential Behaviour and Annoyance – In the study on the effects of negative ‘community noise’ participants reported intense feelings of anger, disappointment, dissatisfaction, withdrawal, helplessness, depression, anxiety, distraction, agitation, or exhaustion.

These guidelines and subsequent recommendations made by the WHO, were intended to inform policy makers, however unfortunately they go unheeded or unnoticed in a great deal of the world.

There are challenges to finding healthy sound environments, as the construction of living and working spaces close to disturbing noise sources continues, along with workers experiencing prolonged exposure to machinery noise without protection and construction of housing without building standards that would minimise transference of sound. Therefore before your next move of houses or job, it may be worth considering the effects of the environmental noise on your health.



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