People have been aware of the health related dangers of air pollution for decades and governments around the world have worked to reduce smog and similar air quality problems. But there has been little progress to reduce the sound pollution that surrounds us daily.  Perhaps it is because unlike smog, sound waves aren’t visible. If we could “see” sound, we might be alarmed by how much harmful noise we are exposed to every day.

A growing body of evidence confirms that noise pollution has both temporary and permanent effects on people by way of the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems. It has been postulated that noise acts as a nonspecific biologic stressor eliciting reactions that prepare the body for a “fight or flight” response.

boy with hands over earsAcute exposure to noise activates nervous and hormonal responses, leading to temporary increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and vaso-constriction. Studies of individuals exposed to occupational or environmental noise show that exposure of sufficient intensity and duration increases heart rate and peripheral resistance, increases blood pressure, increases blood viscosity and levels of blood lipids, causes shifts in electrolytes, and increases levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Sudden unexpected noise evokes reflex responses as well.

For this reason, noise can trigger both endocrine and autonomic nervous system responses that can have a number of negative health effects including:

  • Cardiovascular disease such as coronary artery disease and high blood pressure
  • Stress related conditions such as migraine, colitis, and ulcers
  • Sleep disorders
  • Emotional problems such as mental fatigue, anxiety, and aggression
  • Physical and cognitive developmental problems in children

Noise Pollution - Noises we hear

The damage from most temporary noise exposure is reversible. But when does too much noise lead to irreversible damage?  If you are curious about the level of noise that can cause hearing damage, click on the CDC’s noise meter.

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