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5 Negative Health Side Effects of Noise Pollution

When considering the health side effects of pollution, your mind may immediately venture to plastics, contaminated drinking water, harmful air emissions and waste. However, noise pollution is all too common and consequential for your health, as well.

Noise pollution is unwanted noise that enters a specific environment. It’s so common that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed the Noise Control Act of 1972 to protect populations better—particularly those living in urban areas—from ear-damaging decibels.

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5 Negative Health Side Effects of Noise Pollution

Noise is all around us, whether we hear birds singing, wind, traffic or other human activity. Of course, the duration and levels at which we hear certain sounds could negatively impact our quality of life. Examples of noise pollution might include loud construction, vehicles, crowds, concerts and airplanes.

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While noise pollution can pose severe threats to wildlife and ecosystems—such as shipping or recreational boating impacting marine animals’ communication and hearing—it can also severely affect humans. Here are five health side effects of noise pollution you should protect yourself from.

1. May Induce Hearing Loss

One of noise pollution’s more obvious health side effects is hearing loss. This occurs when noise damages cells and membranes in the ear’s cochlea.

Every person has about 16,000 hairs in their cochlea, allowing their brain to register noises. With hearing loss, you may destroy between 30% to 50% of those hairs before a hearing test can determine what’s wrong.

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Anyone can develop hearing loss, regardless of age or gender. Previous studies show that 10 million adults under 70 have hearing loss from exposure to loud noises in one or both ears. Additionally, 17% of teenagers display characteristics of hearing loss.

2. Could Reduce Cognitive Performance

Noise exposure can cause oxidative damage in the brain and reduce cognitive learning and performance. In urban and industrial areas, where noise pollution is especially prevalent, people may become more susceptible to depression, anxiety and memory loss.

Student learning is also impacted by noise pollution. Research has suggested that classrooms near elevated noise pollution environments cause a 20% decrease in productivity due to a higher risk of migraine headaches, distractions and an inability to hear lectures and discussions.

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3. May Trigger Cardiovascular Issues

While psychological, sleep, hearing and cognitive decline are prominent health side effects of noise pollution, you may be surprised to learn it can also adversely affect your heart health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traffic noise knocks off about 1.6 million healthy life-years annually. In Europe, research demonstrated how high traffic noise exposure led to increased hormone levels, fragmented sleep and oxidative stress in the heart and brain. These factors contribute to cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension and inflammation.

Another research team found that people living in loud urban environments had a 30% chance of stroke—a 25% increase over those living in green areas. The study also revealed that stroke severity advanced where noise pollution exposure was higher.

4. Could Impose Psychological Stress

Noise pollution could negatively impact psychological well-being. For example, consistent exposure to traffic or aircraft noise may lead to depression and anxiety.

Traffic noise pollution studies are also indicative of stress and weight gain. When examining 17 male street vendors in Brazil, scientists determined increased cortisol levels—the stress hormone—and susceptibility to a more significant body mass index (BMI). During the study, the noise levels the vendors were exposed to were well above the standards set by the WHO, ultimately increasing their stress and discomfort.

Although research is limited, adolescent psychological stress is also seemingly impacted by noise pollution. Children of low-socioeconomic status have greater noise sensitivity and emotional and behavioral issues than those from high-income families. A child affected by noise sensitivity could also have difficulty concentrating and shifting their attention away from sounds.

5. May Increase Insomnia

A quiet home is beneficial for your health and can reduce your risk of insomnia and illness. In fact, emerging research indicates the ability of continuous noise pollution to disturb sleep patterns and weaken your immunity.

Long and short-term sleep disruptions are associated with several serious health effects, including:

  • Memory loss
  • Mood disorders
  • Risky behaviors
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Weight gain
  • Type 2 diabetes

One study found that nighttime traffic noise causes an imbalance of blood glucose and insulin levels in diabetic patients due to its effects on the circadian rhythm.

Cancel Noise for Better Health

Creating a barrier between yourself and noise pollution is critical for maintaining optimal health. You’ll want to save your hearing before realizing it’s been negatively impacted. Listening to music at a lower volume, wearing noise-canceling headphones, unplugging loud appliances and steering clear of noise-sensitive areas can help protect you from hearing loss and other serious health conditions.

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