Noise exposure is something we should all take seriously, especially for those of us who live or work in noisy environments. Much research has revealed the consequences of enduring exposure to noise pollution in terms of our hearing health. Working in factories, in construction industries, at airports, or even living in the city, can all pose a significant risk to your hearing health. Even listening to music at loud levels or attending too many concerts without hearing protection can damage sensitive hearing mechanisms irreversibly. But, did you know that noise exposure can damage more than just your hearing?
Health Consequences Beyond Hearing
Recent research has uncovered a linkage between the risk of heart attacks and strokes and environmental noise. Studies of the activity in the region of the brain that controls the stress response show heightened response during times of chronic noise exposure. This linkage indicates an increased risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes among people living in highly noisy environments such as near airports or in urban areas.
Cardiovascular Disease Risk Higher In Noisy Environments
Not only are the odds of cardiovascular events higher for those living with noise pollution. Incidents of cardiovascular disease are more prominent among these populations as well, according to a study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers studied 499 people around age 56 years who experienced heart attacks or strokes and underwent PET and CT scanning of their brains and blood vessels during the same event.
Researchers observed amygdala activity during the event. (The amygdala is that area of the brain that regulates stress and emotional responses to stimuli). Following the medical journey of these patients, researchers found that 40 out of the 499 study participants experienced a second cardiovascular episode such as a heart attack or stroke within five years of the first event.
Researchers studied the locations where participants lived and observed the noise levels in these areas. Noise levels were assessed based on the Aviation and Highway Noise Map provided by the Department of Transportation. Researchers found that individuals who lived in high noise environments were much more at risk for cardiovascular disease due to higher levels of amygdalar activity and increased arteric inflammation.
There are other considerations researchers took into account such as other independent risk factors of cardiovascular disease like air pollution, personal lifestyle, smoking, or medical conditions. After removing those factors out of the participant pool, the link between cardiovascular disease occurrence and sustained noise pollution was still remarkably high.
This study provides a clear justification for clinicians to incorporate chronic noise polluted environments into their assessments of patients’ risk of cardiovascular disease. Taking this into consideration, when appropriate, physicians should prescribe their patients’ steps to help mitigate their exposure to noise pollution such as using hearing protection, removing themselves from noisy environments, and taking good care of their hearing through regular preventative screenings.
As more clinicians become aware of this linkage they can work to educate all patients to the dangers of noise exposure on their cardiovascular systems.