Pollution of all kinds are harmful to our health, but most of all is noise pollution. Constant exposure to sharp and shrill sounds like loud music, traffic, noisy machinery and the TV playing loudly can affect a person’s hearing to the point of damaging it permanently. Those exposed to noise pollution also end up suffering from several diseases. The ill-effects of noise pollution consist of cancer, depression, impotence, irritability, sleeplessness and lack of concentration, among others. Let’s look at the top 10 diseases caused by noise pollution:
- Damage to eardrums and loss of hearing: Unwanted sounds that our ears have not been trained to filter out can cause us problems. Normally, our ears can accept a certain level of sounds but when sounds as loud as those made by machinery, traffic, aeroplanes, jackhammers or horns are made incessantly over long periods. This can result in the eardrums being damaged and consequent loss of hearing.
- Cardiovascular issues: According to the WHO, there is a slight link between long-term noise pollution and hypertension. According to recent studies, night time noise levels above 50 dB(A) could increase the risk of myocardial infarction by severely increasing cortisol production. Traffic on main roads and highways can also limit arterial blood flow and cause increased blood pressure.
- Stress: Neighbours of those who have late night loud parties left them sleepless and stressed, according to research. Noisy neighbours make people’s lives miserable and this impacts their health to a great extent.
- Headaches and migraines: The immediate effect of noise pollution is a headache or migraine, depending on the severity of the noise. This makes it difficult for people to focus and their productivity at work also suffers. In cases where people suffer from migraines, they could also be extremely sensitive to light and have bouts of nausea too.
- Loss of sleep: Noise levels exceeding 45 decibels keeps people up from their sleep, while light sleepers could be woken up by noises at lower decibels. Loss of sleep or sleeplessness could lead to a range of health problems like irritability, lack of focus, exhaustion and a weak immune system.
- Hypertension: Regular exposure to noise pollution elevates blood pressure levels, possibly due to an increase of adrenaline levels at being annoyed at the loud noise or the associated stress of being interrupted at one’s activities at home or sleeping.
- Stroke: Constant exposure to traffic noise often results in a risk of stroke, particularly if people are over 65 years of age.
- Dementia: According to research conducted, people who live within 50 metres of a road suffer the ill-effects of noise pollution, such as dementia.
- Child development: According to studies, there is a link between the slow physical and mental development of children and the fact that they live close to airports or locations of loud noise. Though people can deal with the same kind of noise every day, yet often some kind of annoyance in one’s daily routine can have serious ramifications on one’s health, both in the short- and long-term.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that brought out a pamphlet in 1978, there is a correlation between the low birth weight of a baby under 2.5 kg and high sound levels. It also showed that where births take place in areas of high sound levels, babies are born with birth defects such as cleft palate, harelip and spinal defects.
Research also proves that the fetus is capable of sensing sounds and responding to them using motor activity and heart rate change. A baby is most highly affected by noise exposure between the ages of 15 days and 60 days after conception, when the chief internal organs and the central nervous system develop.
Babies also suffer developmental problems when the mother goes through vasoconstriction. This problem refers to reduced blood flow from the mother to the baby, thereby giving the baby less nutrition and oxygen. When mothers have low hormonal levels, it results in low birth weights and noise. These hormones affect the growth of the fetus as they indicate good levels of protein manufacture.
Speech problems: Babies and infants being constantly exposed to high noise levels that hamper speech, they develop difficulties in speaking or reading since their auditory processing functions are affected. Such children develop these speech problems till they reach the age of 13 years. Evidence also proves that children who attend noisy classrooms have more difficulty in understanding speech than their counterparts who learn in a quiet setting.
- Effects on animals: Animals depend on sound more than human beings, so in the midst of noise, they face more problems than we do. They have a better sense of hearing than us since their survival is based on it. As far as domestic pets go, they react to loud noise by being aggressive. They become disoriented very easily and suffer a variety of behavioural problems. Out in the wild, animals exposed to loud sounds can end up suffering from hearing loss, which could make them prey to hunters or other animals and lead to a fall in their population. Others lose efficiency with hunting and in this way, affect the eco-balance.
Species that give out mating calls in the mating season are unable to hear these calls because their hearing is impaired due to noise that man makes. They, therefore, lose the opportunity to reproduce, and again this results in their dwindling populations. Yet others need sound waves to locate their sounds and find their way while migrating. By disturbing their sound signals during the migratory period makes them lose their way and they do not migrate when they should.
Since manmade sounds are becoming more and more excessive, animals are trying to cope with it by roaring louder than before, which only adds to the already existing noise pollution levels.
By understanding the severity of the diseases caused by noise pollution, we can understand its impact on us, animal life and the environment at large and cope with it effectively.