Living in the Midst of Noise can Be Fatal

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 23 2007 7:24 PM

A report from the World Health Organisation has revealed that thousands of Britons are killed due to excessive noise from modern urban life.

The specialised agency of the UN has warned that unruly neighbours, the incessant roar of traffic, and booming music from pubs and clubs trigger a number of health problems, including heightened blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

The report further states that noise pollution also causes deafness, disturbs sleep, and can even affect a child's ability to learn.

According to it, about three per cent of deaths from heart disease (about 6,500), including heart attacks and strokes, can be traced back to stress of long-term exposure to noise from traffic.

“The new data provide the link showing there are earlier deaths because of noise. Until now, noise has been the Cinderella form of pollution and people haven't been aware that it has an impact on their health," the Daily Mail quoted leading audiologist Professor Deepak Prasher as saying.

Noise from MP3s, pop concerts and discos damages the hearing in almost two per cent of seven to 19-year-old children in Europe, according to the WHO's Working Group on the Noise Environmental Burden of Disease.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People has cautioned that people who turn their MP3 up to the maximum 105 decibels for more than an hour a day risk permanent hearing damage.

Excessive noise also affects learning. It was found that children tended to be slower to learn and read if their classrooms were near railway lines.

The WHO data, which is still preliminary, follows figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that noise complaints have increased five-fold over the past 20 years.

"All this is happening imperceptibly and this is the key. Even when you think you are used to noise, these physiological changes are still happening," said Professor Prasher of University College London.

Experts say that people having noisy neighbours may face stress simply by knowing that a neighbour is in, even if they are not being noisy at that point.

"If you have no control over that noise, that's what creates anger and stress and causes people to tip over the edge," Val Wheedon of the UK Noise Association told New Scientist magazine.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that it took the issue of noise “very seriously”, and was working on a strategy that would go out for public consultation later this year.