Just Say 'Shh!' For Your Health

06/19/2015 10:10 am ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

By Neha Kashyap, dailyRx News Reporter

Loud noise may hurt more than just your ears.

A new study found that noise pollution like traffic, airplane noises and street activity could be hurting America's health -- to the tune of billions of dollars.

Loud noises have been linked to not only a decline in hearing, but also heart disease, high blood pressure, lack of sleep and cognitive development issues in children, according to studies compiled by Queen Mary University of London researchers. According to the authors of this study, the interruption of sleep cycles and the stress it causes could be why exposure to noise is linked to health problems.

"A lot of work is done on air pollution and the public health burden, but noise just never seems to get the same consideration," said senior author Dr. Richard L. Neitzel, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, per Reuters.

In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a limit of an average of 55 decibels of sound per day as safe. The topic has not been revisited since 1981, Reuters reports.

Fifty-five decibels is somewhere between a conversation at home and background noise in public, according to Purdue University. According to Dr. Neitzel, urbanization has likely exposed many to greater noise levels than in the past, which could mean the EPA standards are outdated.

Dr. Neitzel and team said that about half of Americans might be exposed to a daily average of 58 decibels -- roughly the sound of an air conditioner. Fourteen percent of Americans might be averaging about 65 decibels -- equivalent to hearing a vacuum cleaner -- per day.

"In the U.S., we just view it as a necessary byproduct of the technology we use," Dr. Neitzel said to Reuters.

Dr. Neitzel and team said they believe that the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease may increase by 7 to 17 percent for every 10-decibel average increase in daily noise. Reducing noise by 5 decibels could decrease the likelihood of heart disease for 1.4 percent of Americans and high blood pressure for 1.8 percent. This could save the US $3 billion per year in health costs, Dr. Neitzel and team estimated.

Dr. Neitzel recommended arranging your bed away from street noise -- and trying to keep the noise down.

This study was published online May 25 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Funding and conflict of interest information was not available at the time of publication.

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