Non-Auditory Effects of Noise Pollution

by Claire Thomas on April 30, 2014



Noise pollution isn’t your typical kind of pollution- its not something we can see collect in huge masses. However, it can still be just as damaging to human health as other environmental pollution. According to the British Medical Bulletin of Oxford Journals, “Noise interferes in complex task performance, modifies social behaviour and causes annoyance” (Noise). Not only can noise damage your hearing, as many people are aware, but it can also interfere with other aspects of health.

Noise is not just bad for health because it is annoying; there are fundamental characteristics of sound that affect us. Our response, “to noise may depend on characteristics of the sound, including intensity, frequency, complexity of sound, duration and the meaning of the noise” (Noise). One example of noise pollution is its effect on sleep disturbance. Our sleep can be disturbed through increase in blood pressure and heart rate and effect body movements (Noise). Studies on noise are showing, “by reducing indoor noise level, the amount of REM sleep and slow wave sleep can be increased” (Noise). REM sleep is extremely important for our health, especially for children going through development because they need to be sharp and ready to learn in school systems.

When asking an employer about working environments, you wouldn’t necessarily think to ask about sound levels, would you? However, noise pollution in occupational settings can increase risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. For example, “Many occupational studies have suggested that individuals chronically exposed to continuous noise at levels of at least 85 dB have higher blood pressure than those not exposed to noise… noise exposure has also been an indicator of exposure to other factors, both physical and psychosocial, which are also associated with high blood pressure” (Noise). Therefore, noise is a more important factor than some realize when associated with a working environment.

While noise pollution can affect us in ways beyond annoyance, it is definitely annoying, causing some of the noise pollution problems. Annoyance leads to stress that can lower our body’s immune system responses and make us tired and irritable. For example, the screeching sound of the T coming into the Boylston stop is absolutely terrible, and always makes me irritated.

Earlier I stated that children can be more harmed by sleep disturbance, but they can also be more severely harmed in other ways due to less cognitive development. Many conclusions have been drawn from studies with noise pollution and children, for example, “Deficits have been found in sustained attention and visual attention. Relatedly, according to teachers’ reports, noise-exposed children have difficulties in concentrating in comparison with children from quieter schools. Children exposed to chronic environmental noise have been found to have poorer auditory discrimination and speech perception as well as poorer memory requiring high processing demands… chronically exposed children tend to have poorer reading ability and school performance on national standardized tests” (Noise). These issues are vast and are impacting the individuals who will one day run the world, so noise pollution should be an issue that is taken just as seriously as trash on the street, CO2 levels, and climate change.




Oxford Journals: British Medical Bulletin

Article Title: Noise pollution: non-auditory effects on health


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