The Health Impacts of Noise Pollution
Across the globe, the health risks associated with excess noise are gaining attention. In 2018, the World Health Organisation advised that urban noise poses a risk to public health and wellbeing.
This is due to the growing amount of evidence showing that prolonged noise exposure can be linked to several short and long-term health problems – both physiological and psychological.
It helps to remember that the ear evolved in an acoustic environment that was nothing like the one we live in today.
The World Health Organisation analysed environmental noise from planes, trains and vehicles, as well as other city sources, and then looked at links to health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, sleep disturbance, tinnitus, cognitive impairment in children, and annoyance.
The most obvious is interrupted sleep, with its flow-on effects of tiredness, impaired memory and creativity, impaired judgement and weakened psychomotor skills.
They concluded that at least one million healthy years of life are lost each year in Europe alone due to noise pollution (and this figure does not include noise from industrial workplaces).
This might be difficult to accept on face value, but no one can deny the impacts of noise pollution on cognitive performance and quality of life.
Cognitive Performance and Quality of Life
Good cognition is essential for work and academic performance. Excess noise interrupts concentration, memory and speech recognition, all of which can reduce work quality, output and productivity. There is a growing body of evidence that shows how noise pollution impacts academic ability and learning outcomes and even leads to lower standardised test scores. See our other articles New-style classrooms demand new thinking and Case study: How to manage distraction in the classroom for more information.
Noise pollution is also clearly linked to psychological stress responses and discomfort. In general, people with normal hearing function find loud noise uncomfortable. Accordingly, regular exposure to excess noise in a living space can have a significant negative impact on the quality of day-to-day life.
Despite the growing evidence, less than half of Australians realise the significant impact of noise pollution on our wellbeing. This is despite 95 per cent of Aussies saying that they ‘feel affected’ by a bombardment of noise every day in their home. Whether it’s traffic and construction outside on the street, home appliances and electronics, or even flight paths that cross overhead, a 2018 Sony Sounds study reveals how hard it is to get away from noise pollution.
And with the increasing urban populations and changes in urban development, this is only going to get worse.
With that in mind – it’s important to take a break whenever you can.
Tahnee Schulz, a leading mindfulness expert and psychologist who worked with Sony on the Sounds Study, says "in the hustle and bustle of modern life, where we’re constantly being overstimulated by both natural and man-made sounds, it’s more important than ever for us to be aware of the epidemic of noise pollution and the effects that it can have on us physically and mentally".
Schulz suggests that all Aussies should be "taking proactive steps" towards finding a bit of peace and quiet in their lives throughout the day.
Acoustic Blinds and Curtains is a provider of effective noise reduction products for all kinds of 'city' noise.