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The Consumer Handbook on Tinnitus

Noise—Harmful Physical and Mental Consequences

Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D.

It is the continuous exposure to noise, whether from the planes flying overhead or the horns at the nearby railroad crossing that may eventually break down one of the body’s systems that is constantly reacting to the persistent noise. To study the effects of noise on the body, data are usually collected on residents who live near highways, railroads or airports. Then the findings of these studies are generalized to populations who may similarly be exposed to continuous noise from these sources or others (such as motor raceways or noisy neighbors). The strongest evidence for physiological damage are those studies that link noise to cardiovascular and circulatory disorders; some of these studies date back to the 1970s. Road traffic and aircraft noise have been found to affect children’s cardiovascular systems as well. The US Government in a 1978 document entitled Noise: A Health Problem11 noted that children exposed to aircraft noise in school and at home had higher blood pressures than children in quieter areas. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in this booklet cautioned that more studies were needed to confirm this finding, it still concluded that “...this finding is cause for serious concern.”

Sometimes, exposure to noise starts early in life; infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) are exposed to noise that not only puts them at risk for hearing loss, but it also elicits undesirable physiological responses such as changes in heart rate, oxygen saturation and blood pressure. Goines in writing about the potential physiological changes in infants brought about by the disruptive sounds to which they’re exposed informs us that recommendations are now in place to minimize the noise in the NICU units in the hospitals. Additionally, parents are warned not to expose their infants to noise when they’re discharged from the hospital. Parents should also be cautioned about keeping homes quieter because two researchers in 1982 found that noisy homes can intrude on children’s speech and cognitive development. This points to the value of lowering stereo systems and televisions as well as voices which too often are raised to shouts. The Toronto Health Department ( has produced a pamphlet entitled Noise and Children directed at parents, and it states that: “A quiet home offers your child a place that fosters learning, promotes health and a chance to enjoy family time.”

While one might say that we need additional studies to validate all the findings cited above, it should be noted that William Stewart, the former Surgeon General of the United States in 1978 pointed out that there are many incidents of heart disease occurring daily in the US for which, “The noise of the 20th century living is a major contributory cause.” Today, research on the effects of noise on health have been conducted, for the most part in Europe. The US Government moved from a position in 1978, when it believed that there was enough evidence to support cautioning people against the hazardous health impact of noise to the position it now takes which is one that asks for further research linking noise to health. Yet, the US Government is hesitant to support noise/health research.