Aliaksei Lepik via Unsplash
Sound has the potential to serve as an incredibly healing force. But with great power comes great responsibility. The same power for healing that sound possesses can equally be used to cause harm. In this article, we will cover how noise can be harmful to human health.
“Estimates suggest that roughly a third of Europeans and Americans are regularly exposed to unhealthy levels of noise, typically defined as starting around 70 to 80 decibels.”
(Cypress Hansen, Knowable Magazine)
The soundscapes of our cities and towns profoundly influence our health and well-being more than we may consciously realize. The noise of traffic, aircrafts, construction, etc., has become a regular part of our daily reality, but were you aware that these sounds can have a harmful influence on our health and well-being?
Noise is defined as unorganized, unwanted sound. Noise can directly impact our hearing through exposure to loud sounds, but it can also affect our well-being due to the energy it produces. According to British Medical Bulletin, noise interferes with complex task performance, modifies social behavior and causes annoyance. Exposure to noise can trigger a stress response, which can have a detrimental impact on the body and health especially when exposed over time. These are just a few examples of the impact of noise exposure.
"Exposure to loud noise has long been linked with hearing loss. But the ruckus of planes and cars takes a toll beyond the ears:
Traffic noise has been flagged as a major physiological stressor
second to air pollution and on roughly equal footing with exposure to secondhand smoke and radon. In the last decade, a growing body of research more directly links air and road traffic noise to a heightened risk for a number of cardiovascular ailments — and scientists are beginning to pinpoint the mechanisms at play." (Cypress Hansen, Knowable Magazine)
Source: T. MÜNZEL ET AL / EUROPEAN HEART JOURNAL 2017 | KNOWABLE MAGAZINE
Exposure to noise during sleep may be unavoidable for some due to living in urban environments perhaps near a highway, airport, etc. Sleep is one of the foundational pillars of good health; therefore, sleep disturbance can have a more significant impact on our bodies than we realize. Research shows that noise exposure during sleep can have a detrimental impact on our health in a number of ways. The British Medical Bulletin states that “noise exposure during sleep may increase blood pressure, heart rate and finger pulse amplitude as well as body movements.” The reason behind these intense responses is the dramatic change to the endothelium, or inner lining of the arteries and blood vessels. This lining can easily become activated and inflamed, which can cause serious ramifications.
"The path from noise to blood vessels goes something like this: When sound reaches the brain, it activates two important regions: the auditory cortex, which interprets noise, and the amygdala, which manages emotional responses to it. As noise gets louder, and especially during sleep, the amygdala activates the body’s flight-or-fight response — even if the person isn’t aware of it." (Cypress Hansen, Knowable Magazine)
"A 2018 report by the World Health Organization noted that each year, western Europeans are collectively losing more than 1.6 million years of healthy life because of traffic noise. This calculation is based on the number of premature deaths caused directly by noise exposure as well as the years lived with noise-induced disability or illness." (Cypress Hansen, Knowable Magazine)
With awareness of how noise influences our health, it is important to become mindful of the amount of noise exposure we permit each day. Finding ways to intentionally listen to nature sounds, binaural beats, and other health-enhancing soundscapes is a good way to combat the growing noise exposure in cities across the world.