There is another reason, apart from pollution, to avoid heavy traffic – the sheer noise may be a danger. Living with chronic noise exposure increases the risk of heart attacks, and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that long-term noise exposure above 67 to 70dB (equivalent to traffic noise) can lead to high blood pressure. When researchers assessed people who had been admitted to 32 major hospitals in Berlin following a heart attack they found that environmental noise increased heart attack risk more than threefold in women, and by 45 per cent in men. Overall, people living in a high traffic area were 46 per cent more at risk than those living in quieter areas.
Theories about why noise can do physical harm include its association with increased stress and irritation, leading to an outpouring of stress hormones and rises in heart rate, blood pressure and blood lipids. People who already have cardiovascular disease may be at special risk, and noise can provoke changes in heart rhythm.
Protect Your Hearing
If your work involves loud noise, it is sensible to wear ear plugs or ear defenders at all times as recommended by your employer. Similarly, make sure that you protect your ears if you engage in noisy sports like shooting. But the harm may start at low levels – and there are countless noisy tasks in daily life that we may do without thinking of the potential damage to our cardiovascular system (or our hearing). So buy several pairs of good-quality ear plugs with a high noise-reduction rating (NRR) and use them whenever you undertake noisy tasks such as mowing the lawn or using power tools. Small specialized ear plugs, called flat attenuators or flat response earplugs, are available for use at events such as rock concerts; when using them, you are still able to hear the music clearly, but they protect you from hazardous amplified noise levels.
Are You at Risk
How can you tell if the sound in your life has the potential to harm your hearing and cardiovascular health? Damage may be occurring if:
- You use heavy power tools for more than 30 minutes a day.
- You are exposed to continuous noise during the day – in the workplace, at an airport, on a building site, in a factory that has loud industrial machinery or power tools – or in the evening at a club.
- You experience a ringing in your ears during or after noise exposure.
Hearing impairment can also be caused by prolonged exposure to the noise of a motorcycle engine (90 to 100dB), a loud car stereo (95 to 140dB), or even the interior of a busy pub (90 to 95dB).
Beware Night Time Noise
Chronic night-time noise above 50dB – the level of light traffic – poses a risk to cardiovascular health, says the WHO. Other studies suggest that traffic noise above 30dB may disturb sleep – a hazard in itself.
If you get traffic noise in your home, hang heavy curtains and consider double-glazing; if it’s still noisy at night, lobby your town council to install lownoise road surfaces and mend any potholes, which increase traffic noise.
A Special Warning to Snorers
If your partner is a snorer, the chances are that you are subjected to noise levels overnight sufficient to disturb your sleep and raise your risk of cardiovascular disease. A loud snorer can emit sounds of up to 95dB – equal to a heavy truck thundering past at close range. One study from Imperial College London showed increases in blood pressure among people sleeping with snorers. In addition, snorers are themselves at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
The best way to resolve this problem is to persuade your partner to see his or her GP for tests, assessment and treatment. Meanwhile, get yourself some special snore-attenuating ear plugs