Noise is all around us and it’s harming our health

Photo credit: Vlad Alexandru Popa

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise is all around us and it’s harming our health. That’s the title of a report by Isabelle Gallant at CBC News, in Canada. Gallant reviews a wide body of research about the health dangers of noise, including some by Erica Walker at the Brown University School of Public Health. Walker notes that hearing a noise sets off the body’s “fight or flight” response. “Your heart rate increases. You begin to sweat. You begin to release these hormones that get you prepared for battle — or prepare you to run away from it,” the report states. An ongoing stress response over time can lead to adverse health consequences, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.

Gallant mentions research showing that many residents of Vancouver, Canada are exposed to excessive noise, exceeding World Health Organization safe noise levels. Babies born to mothers living in noisy areas were found to have higher diabetes rates and reduced birth weights. 

This information — that transportation noise from road traffic, aircrafts and trains causes disease and increases mortality rates — is not new, and has been widely reported in hundreds of studies, in many countries around the world, over the last several decades. Unfortunately, this information is still not widely known in the United States, although it is the basis for public policy efforts to reduce noise exposure in Europe.

Noise isn’t just an annoyance. It’s a health problem, just like secondhand smoke isn’t just an annoyance, but exposes people to increased risks of cancer and respiratory disease. That’s why, with the assistance of colleagues at the Quiet Coalition, I published a revised definition of noise, “noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound,” which was recently adopted by the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise.

In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon wrote that knowledge is power. Help us spread the word that noise is a health problem, not just a nuisance. Please join us in trying to make the world a quieter, happier, healthier and better world for all by becoming a member or donating

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