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Can Noise Make You Sick?
Can Noise Make You Sick?
Do you live a loud lifestyle? When was the last time you sat in silence, drove in silence or just spent the day without television, radio or even conversation? Have we become so accustomed to background noise that when it’s not there, we search it out? Perhaps the most important question of all: What does all this noise do to our health even if it’s not harming our hearing?
Noise levels of 85 to 90 decibels can lead to hearing loss. To put this into perspective, normal conversation is about 60 decibels and the sound of a lawn mower is about 90 decibels.
When we think of dangerous noise, we think of loud sounds like jet engines or rock concerts that can harm our hearing. However, the scientific research is finding that even low-level noises (below 85 decibels) can negatively impact our physical, mental and cognitive health. A 2003 report in the British Medical Bulletin links the non-auditory (non-hearing-related) effects of noise to insomnia, impaired learning and cognitive performance, heart disease and psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Making some noise
Scientific studies warning of the dangers of noise pollution may not be getting national headlines, but they should.
In a literature review published in the March 2007 issue of the Southern Medical Journal, Lisa Goines, RN, and Louis Hagler, MD, call noise pollution a “modern plague.” They cite numerous studies defining the damage noise can cause:
• It increases blood pressure, heart rate and vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), putting people at risk of increased heart disease.
• It impairs task performance, increases errors and decreases motivation.
• It increases the use of psychoactive and sleeping medications; mental-health hospital admission rates; and symptoms such as anxiety, mood changes and overall emotional stability.
In October 2010 the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported that the psychological effects of noise “can be equally devastating” as noise-induced hearing loss. The researchers concluded that our bodies have a physiological response to noise that can over the long-term potentially damage our health.
In a review published in the March 2000 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers conclude, “There is sufficient scientific evidence that noise exposure can induce hearing impairment, hypertension and ischemic heart disease, annoyance, sleep disturbances, and decreased school performance.” These researchers also describe large studies demonstrating that noise significantly increases blood pressure in children exposed to airport noise.
The youngest victims
Adults certainly are affected by constant noise, but kids are even more susceptible to the damages of noise pollution.
A study published in the 2009 Oct-Dec issue of Noise Health showed that traffic noise significantly impaired children’s reading ability, comprehension and basic math performance. Researchers speculate that children cope with increased noise by learning how to tune out stimulation, which can cause a generalized poor attention span. In some children, noise may also cause a heightened state of arousal, which hinders their ability to concentrate.
An earlier study published in 1998 in Psychological Science demonstrated children living in a noisy airport community not only had elevated blood pressure, they suffered increases in epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol—all triggered by the fight-or-flight stress response. This study also found that the “quality of life in the children living in the noisy community declined significantly over the 18 months of the study.”
“As a whole, these findings suggest that schools and daycare centers should be located in areas that are as noise-free as possible,” conclude Goines and Hagler. “Noise represents an important public health problem…noise adversely affects general health and well-being in the same way as does chronic stress.”
The healing sounds of silence
Certain sounds can be comforting, such as soft music, birds chirping or the wind rustling in the trees. But many of us are not often surrounded by those noises throughout the day. Instead we have ringing cell phones, blaring televisions and buzzing traffic—and that’s only the start.
To tap into the healing sounds of silence, incorporate a “noise break” into your hectic daily routine. Take 10 minutes out of your day to sit in silence. Breathe deeply in for a count of five and out for a count of five. Do this several times and then simply sit and enjoy what you hear—nothing but the sound of your breath.
Here are some other ways to quiet your life:
• Don’t turn on the television unless you’re sitting down to watch something specific.
• Wait awhile before turning on the radio when you get in the car.
• If you live on a noisy street or in a noisy neighborhood, invest in a quality set of headphones and listen to soft music or nature sounds.
• Take a meditation class to help get comfortable with silence.
Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.”
In addition to being the publisher of Wellness Times, Karolyn is also the publisher of the Natural Medicine Journal, an innovative e-journal for healthcare professionals. She has been writing and publishing wellness information since 1992. She is the author or co-author of hundreds of articles and several books including the two books that she has written with Dr. Lise Alschuler, The Definitive Guide to Cancer and Five to Thrive: Your Cutting-Edge Cancer Prevention Plan. Along with Dr. Alschuler, she is the co-host of the Five to Thrive Live! radio show on the Cancer Support Network, online at w4cs.com. She is also the author of The Healing Factor, a blog on PsychologyToday.com. For more information, visit www.karolyngazella.com.
July 9th, 2012