It’s almost impossible to find complete peace and quiet.
Even if you live deep in the countryside away from aircraft routes, traffic and building work, your home is probably filled with the buzz of computers and other modern appliances.
In some locations, there are even claims of mysterious low-pitched noises with no known origin.
For example, residents of Bristol in the west of England recently complained of a “hum”, which followed reports of a similar sound in the city in the 1970s.
Such sounds aren’t just annoying. There is increasing evidence that long-term environmental noise above a certain level can have a negative influence on your health.
These effects can be physical, mental and possibly even disrupt children’s learning.
Recent research shows that road traffic and aircraft noise increase the risk of high blood pressure, especially noise exposure at night.
A study of aircraft noise around London’s Heathrow airport found that high levels of aircraft noise was associated with increased risks of hospital admission and death for stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease in the nearby area.
Another large study that looked at aircraft noise exposure over a much longer time period of 15 years found that deaths from heart attacks increased when the noise was louder and endured over a longer period of time.
The latest estimates suggest a ten decibel average increase in aircraft noise exposure was related to an increase in high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes of between 7% and 17%.
Your emotional response to noise pollution can also be significant, so much so that it has a specific name: noise annoyance.
This describes the negative feelings noise can create such as disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance, as well as a feeling of having one’s privacy invaded. Annoyance can vary widely between different people, however
As well as the type and volume of the sound, other factors include how much it interferes with your activities, the fear you feel associated with the source of the noise, your coping mechanisms and even your belief about whether the noise is preventable.
The impact of noise on children’s learning is less well understood.
It may be as simple as aircraft noise interfering with teachers communicating with pupils, or it may be that pupils focus their attention so narrowly in noisy conditions that they exclude useful speech as well as unwanted noise.
But we do know that it’s not just due to the fact that people living around airports are sometimes poorer because when researchers have taken this into account they’ve found their results still apply.
What is clear is that noise pollution does affect a large number of people and is a significant risk to their health.
Because of this, we need to think about interventions to reduce noise at source by masking or screening it using barriers or sound insulation, or even better by designing our society to be less noisy in the first place.
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