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Sonic doom: how noise pollution triples your health risk

Posted by Tom Peary on Jan 20, 2016 12:00:00 AM | noise reduction

Recent research has found that living near a busy road or an airport triples your risk of a heart attack or stroke because the noise triggers a harmful response in the body. Here we explain what these latest findings mean.

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital said exposure to noise pollution fuels activity in the area of the brain that deals with stress response. They also warned that the effects can be seen in non-smokers and people who don’t have diabetes – who already have a heightened risk. This response then promotes blood vessel inflammation, which can lead to cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and strokes.

Heightened risk Led by Dr Azar Radfar, the study used 499 people, with an average age of 56 years old. The findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago earlier this month. None of the participants had cardiovascular illness or cancer and all underwent simultaneous PET and CT scans of their brain and blood vessels.
The resulting images were then assessed looking at the activity in the area of the brain called the amygdala which is involved in stress regulation and emotional responses. Participants’ home addresses and derived noise level estimates from the Department of Transportation’s Aviation and Highway Noise Map were used to help the researchers to gauge noise exposure.
The researchers examined the participants’ medical records following the initial imaging studies to measure cardiovascular risk. In the five years following the initial testing, 40 of the 499 participants experienced a cardiovascular event i.e. a heart attack or stroke. Participants with the highest levels of noise exposure had higher levels of amygdala activity and more inflammation in their arteries. Their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke was triple that of people who had lower levels of noise exposure.
Said risk remained raised even after the researchers accounted for other risk factors i.e. air pollution, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. After further analysis, it was revealed that high levels of amygdala activity appears to unleash a pathway that fuels cardiac risk by driving blood vessel inflammation. Dr Radfar said: “A growing body of research reveals an association between ambient noise and cardiovascular disease. “But the physiological mechanisms behind it have remained unclear. “We believe our findings offer an important insight into the biology behind this phenomenon.”

What does this mean? Researchers said that the results offer a much-needed insight into the biological mechanisms of the well-versed but poorly understood relationship between excessive noise exposure and cardiovascular disease. However, more research is needed to determine whether reduction in noise exposure could meaningfully lower cardiovascular risk and reduce the number of cardiovascular episodes on a wide scale. In the meantime, the findings should propel clinicians to consider chronic noise exposure as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Dr Radfar concluded that, “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.”

How do we help? Here at Echo Barrier, we have seen first-hand the detrimental effects that noise can have on people’s health. Because of this, we have developed our market leading products to help reduce noise and protect the health of workers and local communities. Used worldwide and for a variety of industries including construction, live events and rail works, our acoustic barriers are tested and proven to give up to 40dB noise control. And we are proud holders of the coveted Quiet Mark, which is only given to organisations and products who can prove that they help reduce noise, meaning we have the expertise and products available to help with noise mitigation in an array of situations.

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