We can’t sense the tiny particles in the air that enter our lungs and assault our arteries. But we can certainly hear loud and often irritating noises transmitted through the air as sound waves. Recent observational studies suggest that like air pollution, noise pollution may have adverse cardiovascular consequences for some people.
While living near a highway produces multiple cardiovascular challenges, a Danish observational study adds traffic noise to this list of risk factors, suggesting that the louder the traffic, the greater the risk of stroke. Along similar lines, studies from England and Switzerland correlate living under an airplane flight path with an increased risk of dying from a heart attack. Analogously, people who work in noisy environments such as factories are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems than people with quiet workplaces.
In the United States, 22 million people work in environments with a potentially dangerous noise level. Does this noise predispose them to cardiovascular disease? We don’t know for sure, but we suspect that any excessive cardiovascular risk associated with noise is modest. Concurring with this conclusion, Canadian researcher Hugh Davies stated, “If this [noise] affects you, you could think about moving somewhere quieter. But you’d probably find equal heart benefit if you stopped smoking, ate a healthier diet or exercised more.”