By Kathy Hubbard
It’s not rocket science. Loud, repeated noises can negatively affect your hearing. What you may not know is that continuous exposure to noise can also affect your health in other ways. I just came across an article on the website, Healthline.com which points out a few of the many impacts on our bodies caused by deafening sounds.
“Screeching car alarms. Shrieking trains. The dull rumble of planes. Just reading those phrases may make you want to cover your ears. Loud noises have the ability to, quite literally, get under your skin. Besides being a source of annoyance, they can also have a significant impact on your health,” the article said.
It referenced a study that was conducted at Germany’s Mainz University Medical Center that concluded that an increasing amount of noise can actually “throw your heart out of rhythm. Called atrial fibrillation, this irregular heart beat can lead to blood clots, stroke, and even heart failure.”
This study was very comprehensive and can be read about on a website called EurekAlert.org. Over 15,000 men and women aged 35 to 74 were included in the study that determined that atrial fibrillation in people experiencing extreme noise annoyance reactions increases 23 percent, compared to just 15 percent of people without this environmental impact.
The Healthline article goes on to say that there have been numerous studies about the impact of long-term exposure to noise. They say that it’s not just the decibel level; it’s the types of sound that are to blame.
“When it comes to detecting danger, we humans prioritize what we hear rather than how loud it is. That’s why even during sleep; your brain is still listening. Just the angry jockeying of traffic outside your bedroom window may trigger your body to churn out cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone) even if you never wake up.”
Besides atrial fibrillation, there are other risks involved when you’re bombarded with big noise. Why? Because loud noise exposure might damage the hair cells in our ears which have a big role to play in our ability to hear.
“About 10,000 tiny hair cells inside our ears are responsible for converting every sound we hear into electrical signals. Those signals then get transferred to the hearing centers in our brains that allow us to appreciate sound, speech, and music, while minimizing any unnecessary background noise,” Healthline explains.
Long or repeated exposure to sounds over 85 decibels may bring on hearing loss (I know, we said that already) and, damage to the hair cells in your ears can potentially cause inflammatory reactions in your brain.
“As a result,” Healthline says, “there’s growing evidence that hearing loss may be linked to a loss of cognition, such as dementia.”
And, it doesn’t end there. Constant noise can bring on irritability and anxiety. Irritable and anxious, you might find it hard to sleep. Being unable to sleep is linked to a variety of long-term health issues including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
“Remember that ‘stress hormone?’ It increases your blood pressure and blood sugar, while decreasing your body’s ability to fight off disease,” Healthline says. The result? An uptick in infections and colds.
Finally, researchers don’t seem to know why, but noise pollution can affect men’s fertility. This is important to know if you’re trying to conceive.
“Scientists at Seoul National University found that men who were exposed to relatively low levels of noise – like that of an air conditioner – for eight years were more likely to be diagnosed with infertility. Women are at risk, too. Nighttime noise exposure’s been linked to miscarriage, premature birth, and birth defects,” Healthline explains.
So, what are we supposed to do? We certainly can’t avoid noise. But, we can wear ear protection when operating noisy tools. We can turn down the volume of the TV, stereo and portable music players. We can close our windows when the neighbor’s dog starts barking. If sleeping is an issue, try a good pair of ear plugs or masking the sounds with white noise.
Whatever measures work for you, be sure to use them consistently. It’s more than just being able to hear, it’s your health.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.