It’s February, and many of us recognize our loved ones on Valentine’s Day. For all those we care about, we’d like to enlighten you of the relationship between unhealthy hearts and noise. Read on to learn more about how you can take care of your heart from an acoustic perspective.
So, how does noise affect your heart? Researchers have probed the physiology underlying the consequence of noise on the cardiovascular system, and they are zeroing in on a culprit: dramatic changes to the endothelium, the inner lining of arteries and blood vessels. This lining can go from a healthy state to one that’s “activated” and inflamed, with potentially serious ramifications.
According to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 71st Annual Scientific Session, people subjected to high levels of noise from cars, trains, or planes (an average of 65 decibels or higher over the course of the day) compared to those with low noise exposure (a daily average of less than 50 decibels) are more likely to suffer a heart attack. The lead author of the study is Abel E. Moreyra, MD, a professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The study analyzed nearly 16,000 New Jersey residents hospitalized for a heart attack in 2018. The average daily exposure to transportation noise at the patients’ homes was calculated using data from the state’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The heart attack rate was 72% higher in places with high transportation noise levels, with 3,336 heart attacks per 100,000 people compared with 1,938 heart attacks per 100,000 people in quieter areas. Researchers concluded that 5% of heart attacks resulting in hospitalization were attributable to exposure to elevated noise levels.
Living near roadways and other transportation infrastructure also means greater exposure to vehicle exhaust and other forms of particulate air pollution. “Air pollution and noise go hand-in-hand,” Moreyra said. “The question is: how much of this effect is due to particle pollution, and how much is noise?” Researchers are beginning to disentangle those factors.
Dr. Moreyra’s study is among the first to examine noise and heart disease in the U.S., but his findings align with several studies conducted in Europe. People living near the Frankfurt Airport have a 7% higher risk of stroke than those living in similar but quieter neighborhoods, according to a 2018 study in Noise & Health that investigated health data of more than 1 million people. An analysis of nearly 25,000 cardiovascular deaths between 2000 and 2015 among people living near Switzerland’s Zurich Airport saw significant increases in nighttime mortality after airplane flyovers – especially among women – a team reported last year in the European Heart Journal.
Policy interventions could help to reduce an individual’s exposure to transportation noise at home, even in urban areas. Such interventions might include better enforcement of noise ordinances, improved infrastructure to block road noise, stricter rules for air traffic, low-noise tires for vehicles, and better sound isolation performance for building facades. Our Valentine’s Day wish for all our readers is a healthy heart and happiness wherever you may find it.