Connecting Chronic Noise Exposure With Cardiovascular Disease

In 1910, the Nobel Prize Winner Robert Koch suggested that a time will come when we will have to fight noise as aggressively as we fight cholera and other disorders. The effects of noise are cumulative, building up over the course of a lifetime. This slow, gradual increase makes detecting hearing loss difficult until it is too late.  Not only does noise affect your ears, but it also affects communication, sleep, and can be very annoying. It can also:

  • Increase blood pressure
  • Intensify the effect of drugs
  • Disturb digestion
  • Increase breathing rate
  • Lead to pre-mature childbirth
  • Cause upset stomach
  • Cause irritability

Noise Affects Your Heart

The National Institutes of Health says that 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high-frequency hearing loss associated with noise exposure. If you live near an airport or high traffic area, you are probably aware of the dangers of noise exposure. Although your ears are at risk, did you know that your cardiovascular health may be at risk too? Noise pollution and cardiovascular disease share a connection and those high decibels caused by environmental noise may be causing high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart failure.

How It Happens

The brain often interprets noise as a danger signal, and the messages provoke a stress response in the body which releases hormones. It is these hormones that are responsible for elevating blood pressure, increasing heart rate, and depressing the immune system. As time passes, these responses impact the cardiovascular system. The lack of sleep due to noise also increases these levels further increasing the risk.

A New Study

A new study finds that exposure to loud environmental noise may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. The investigators report that loud noise stimulates the activity of the brain that is involved in stress response. This response leads to blood vessel inflammation. Those people with the highest levels of chronic noise exposure also have a risk for heart attacks and strokes. Researchers hope that clinicians will consider high levels of noise exposure to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The team also believes that patients and their care providers should consider chronic noise exposure when assessing cardiovascular risk.

What You Can Do

If your employment is in a noisy work environment, wear adequate ear protection at all times. If possible, avoid noisy places at all times. If you must remain in a noisy place, take frequent breaks away from the source of the noise. Federal law requires educational programs for those who work in occupations that involve high noise levels so speak with your company regarding this requirement. Try to limit noisy activities within your home, and monitor the sound level and time spent with MP3 players and iPods. Visit hearing healthcare professionals for hearing testing. A hearing healthcare professional can perform a variety of tests for your hearing ability and prescribe a course of treatment that is suitable for your hearing needs.


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