Those living close to an airport have a higher risk of stroke, heart and circulatory disease due to the aircraft noise, according to a study.
Researchers in London studied noise and hospital admissions around London Heathrow airport, while a separate team analyzed data on 6 million Americans living near 89 U.S. airports.
Both studies were published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Wednesday. Researchers found that people living with the highest levels of aircraft noise had increased risks of stroke, coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
Lead author, Dr Anna Hansell, from Imperial College London, said, “The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established. However, it is plausible that it might be contributing – for example, by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people’s sleep.”
“There’s a ‘startle reaction’ to loud noise if you’re suddenly exposed to it, the heart rate and blood pressure increase. And aircraft noise can be annoying for some people, which can also affect their blood pressure, leading to illness. The relative importance of daytime and night-time noise from aircraft also needs to be investigated further,” Hansell says.
The research revealed on average, zip codes with 10 decibel (dB) higher aircraft noise had a 3.5 percent higher cardiovascular hospital admission rate.
The results then showed that people who were exposed to the highest noise levels – more than 55 dB – had the strongest link with hospitalizations for heart disease, and the link also remained after adjustment for socioeconomic status, demographic factors, air pollution, and proximity to roads.
Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at Britain’s Open University said that because of the kind of data used, the studies could only “suggest very strongly that we should find out much more about aircraft noise and circulatory disease.”
Professor Paul Elliott, the senior author of the UK study, says that a number of other factors could play a role in the increased risk level found by his team’s study.
“It’s worth bearing in mind that there are many other factors that are known to have important influences on an individual’s risk of heart disease and stroke, such as diet, smoking, lack of exercise and medical conditions such as raised blood pressure and diabetes,” he said. “However, our study does raise important questions about the potential role of noise on cardiovascular health, which needs further study.”
Researchers from the Harvard study said measures could be taken to protect people from higher noise levels if they were indeed the cause of greater risk for cardiovascular disease.
“Our study emphasizes that interventions that reduce noise exposures could reduce cardiovascular risks among people living near airports,” said co-author Jonathan Levy, an adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH. “This can be done through improved aircraft technology and optimized flight paths, by using runways strategically to avoid when possible residential areas when people are sleeping, and by soundproofing of homes and other buildings.”
How Aircraft Noise Affects Hospital Admissions for Heart Disease
Residential exposure to aircraft noise and hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases: multi-airport retrospective study. — a joint study by BUSPH and HSPH, published in the BMJ.