The Grapevine

How Loud Noises Could Affect Your Heart Over Time

Since Monday morning has arrived, you may have already heard the sounds of speeding vehicles and loud horns during rush-hour traffic. While it is obvious that noise pollution can cause hearing loss over time, can it also have a damaging effect on our heart health?

"There's consistent evidence that road traffic noise leads to heart attacks," said Dr. Yutong Samuel Cai, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, England. Of course, when one mentions road vehicles, you may wonder if this health risk is actually linked to air pollution as opposed to the excess noise.

"Noise and air pollution usually co-exist, but we can adjust our statistical model to factor out the air pollution," Cai explains. "Noise seems to have its own effect on the cardiovascular system."

Last year, a team of researchers from Imperial led a study which examined the blood samples of 144,000 adults. They found harmful changes such as higher blood sugar levels, linked to those who lived in less quiet neighborhoods.

The question is: How does chronic exposure to loud sounds possibly increase the risk of heart disease? The researchers believe this could happen both biologically and psychologically. 

When sounds are unwanted, being forced to hear them can lead to mild annoyance. Over a long period of time, this could escalate into high levels of stress. Along with an increased production of stress hormones, a person may face struggles in achieving good quality sleep if noises persist at night.

As we know, these factors were associated with cardiovascular risk and poor health outcomes in general. The role of stress was also highlighted in preliminary research which will be presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2018 later this month.

After studying nearly 500 participants, those who were exposed to the highest levels of noise amygdala were found to have increased activity in the amygdala — a part of the brain involved in stress regulation among other functions. It is believed that this reaction contributes to blood vessel inflammation.

When compared to those who were exposed to lower levels of noise, these individuals were also three times more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or other major cardiovascular events.

"Patients and their physicians should consider chronic noise exposure when assessing cardiovascular risk and may wish to take steps to minimize or mitigate such chronic exposure," said study author Dr. Azar Radfar, a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

There are methods of intervention if you are dealing with a noisy neighbor, especially at nighttime. But if you cannot avoid the source of the noise, wearing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones might provide some relief.

You can also consider soundproofing and better noise insulation for your home. If the problem occurs at the office, make a request to be seated in a less noisy area.