Where do you live right now? Are you in a quiet neighborhood or do you live near the city surrounded by cars, trains and traffic? It turns out living in a noisy environment can be harmful to your health.
According to a new study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 71st Annual Scientific Session, people who experience high levels of noise from cars, trains or planes were more likely to suffer a heart attack compared to people living in quieter areas.
People who experience high levels of noise from cars, trains or planes were more likely to suffer a heart attack compared to people living in quieter areas.
“In the cardiology community, we are so used to thinking about traditional risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol, but now we are learning more about how air pollution and noise come into play too and how these also contribute to cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Abel Moreyra, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (and the study’s lead researcher), told SeniorsMatter.
Moreyra and his colleagues studied heart attack rates among 16,000 residents in New Jersey with an average age of around 60 who were hospitalized for a heart attack in 2018. The data was originally collected by the Myocardial Infarction Data Acquisition System, a database of all cardiovascular hospitalizations in the state.
The researchers were able to calculate the average daily transportation noise experienced at home by using the state’s Bureau of Transportation statistics. In addition, residents were divided into two groups: high levels of transportation noise (an average of 65 decibels or higher over the course of the day) and low levels of noise exposure (a daily average of fewer than 50 decibels).
To put this into perspective, Moreyra said 65 decibels and higher could sound like laughter, a hairdryer, a washing machine and city traffic. Anything lower can sound like a quiet office, whispering, rustling leaves and normal breathing.
The study found that 5% of hospitalizations for heart attacks were due to increasing high noise levels in the state. In addition, the heart attack rate was 72% higher in areas with loud transportation noise exposure. Moreyra said places with high noise exposures saw 3,336 heart attacks per 100,000 people compared to 1,938 heart attacks per 100,000 people in quieter areas.
The heart attack rate was 72% higher in areas with loud transportation noise exposure.
“Noise that is usually more than 50 to 60 decibels apparently contributes to increased risk of heart attacks. For example, things like tracks, trains, airplanes, airplanes that take off, and live music such as rock bands have like 120 decibels,” he said. “When people are exposed to less than 50 decibels, we didn’t find any increase in the rates of heart attacks. More than 60 decibels apparently are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Moreyra noted the study analyzed people of all ages, which means the findings can apply to groups of different ages, including children, young adults and older adults.
Why does noise pollution increase heart attack risk?
Moreyra explained when someone is exposed to noise pollution, chronic stress causes the brain to release stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When this happens, it forces the heart to pump faster, causing blood vessels to constrict and redirect more oxygen to muscles and other important organs. This process also raises blood pressure.
When someone is exposed to noise pollution, chronic stress causes the brain to release stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
Dr. Richard Becker, MD, volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and director of the University of Cincinnati Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute, told SeniorsMatter persistent or high rates of the heart pumping faster can increase the development of atherosclerosis and increase the risk for heart attack, stroke and cardiac death.
In addition, Moreyra said noise pollution may also cause fragmentation of sleep and sleep deprivation, which can lead to long-term health problems, including heart attack, heart failure, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure. He noted while some studies support this, more research is needed in this area.
…noise pollution may also cause fragmentation of sleep and sleep deprivation, which can lead to long-term health problems.
How can I minimize exposure to noise pollution?
Moreyra doesn’t believe there’s much that people can do to minimize noise pollution except for moving into or choosing an area with limited noise levels. However, Becker recommended sound-absorbing materials for draperies and tiles and white noise devices that can all help reduce the effects of loud noises or bursts of sound. Commercially available hearing protectors are effective as well.
Still, Moreyra believes it will take action from the government and policy interventions to help with noise reduction. This includes noise ordinances in populated areas, regulations for air/vehicle traffic, implementation of low-noise tires for vehicles, and structured noise insulation for buildings.
If you’re a caregiver looking for housing options for a loved one, Moreyra and Becker said it’s important to look at a location in proximity to noise producers like an airport or busy highway.
If you’re a caregiver looking for housing options for a loved one, it’s important to look at a location in proximity to noise producers like an airport or busy highway.
“The potential adverse effects of noise pollution on human health are a vital component of city and community planning that should include builders, developers and city planners,” Becker said. “People’s health is at stake. In addition, one must be aware that the body always keeps the score when it comes to noise pollution. Indeed, loud noise at night even for those that believe that ‘noise doesn’t bother me, I sleep right through it’ still activates the brain and endocrine system, creating health risks whether a person realizes it or not.”
Loud noise at night even for those that believe that ‘noise doesn’t bother me, I sleep right through it’ still activates the brain and endocrine system, creating health risks whether a person realizes it or not.
Further research is needed to explain how noise pollution can affect heart health and lead to cardiovascular disease, Moreyra said.