Noise can have a variety of effects on human health, ranging from minor annoyances to serious health problems. The physical and psychological health consequences of regular exposure to consistently elevated sound levels are referred to as noise health effects. Noise’s impact on health can vary depending on its intensity, duration, frequency, and individual sensitivity to sound.
The World Health Organisation considers traffic noise, in particular, to be one of the worst environmental stressors for humans, second only to air pollution. Hearing impairment, tinnitus, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, and sleep disturbance can all be caused by excessive workplace or environmental noise. Noise exposure has also been linked to immune system changes and birth defects. Although age-related health effects (presbycusis) occur naturally with age, the cumulative impact of noise in many countries is sufficient to impair the hearing of a large proportion of the population over a lifetime. Noise exposure has been linked to noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, hypertension, vasoconstriction, and other cardiovascular problems.
Here are some of the potential health effects of noise:
- Hearing Loss: Prolonged exposure to loud noise, particularly at high decibel levels, can permanently damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss. This condition is frequently irreversible and can be a significant concern for people who are regularly exposed to loud noise without proper hearing protection.
- Sleep Disturbances: Noise can disrupt sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep soundly. Chronic sleep disruptions can cause daytime fatigue, reduced cognitive function, and an increased risk of accidents.
- Stress and Anxiety: Noise can cause stress responses in the body, resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, irritability, and general unease.
- Cardiovascular Issues: Long-term exposure to high levels of noise has been associated with an increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), which, in turn, can lead to an elevated risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Cognitive Impairment: Studies have shown that exposure to noise can negatively impact cognitive function, particularly in tasks requiring attention, memory, and problem-solving abilities. Chronic exposure to noise has been linked to an increased risk of mental health issues, including depression and mood disorders.
Stress from being exposed to loud noise has been linked to an increase in workplace accidents, aggression, and other anti-social behaviours. Vehicles, aircraft, prolonged exposure to loud music, and industrial noise are the most significant sources. Long-term noise exposure at home has been linked to poor mental health.
Chronic noise exposure has been linked to sleep disturbances and an increased risk of diabetes. Chronic noise exposure causes adverse cardiovascular effects due to the sympathetic nervous system’s inability to habituate. When the body is exposed to noise, the sympathetic nervous system maintains lighter stages of sleep, preventing blood pressure from following the normal rise and fall cycle of an undisturbed circadian rhythm.