Living in a noisy environment may be more than just annoying-it could also be hazardous to your health. A new study published by Swedish researchers in the online journal Environmental Health found that people who live near roads with heavy traffic noise were more likely to report having high blood pressure than those who reside in more tranquil areas.

"We found that exposure above 60 decibels was associated with high blood pressure among the relatively young and middle-aged, an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke," said study researcher Theo Bodin, in a statement.

Researchers from Lund University Hospital questioned more than 24,000 Swedish adults ranging in ages between 18 and 80 about their blood pressure status. Middle-age adults living in areas with the highest traffic-noise-on average with readings greater than 64 decibels, which is a bit louder than ordinary conversation-were nearly twice as likely to report having high blood pressure than people living in quieter environments. Younger people reported similar results. The pattern in elderly respondents was not as great, but researchers suspect it may have been because older people have multiple risk factors for high blood pressure and that the effect of noise on this population may not be as great. It's also possible that "noise annoyance varies with age," said Bodin.

The Swedish study confirms findings from earlier studies of people living near airports or working in noisy jobs with increased risks of high blood pressure and heart attack. In fact, a German study published several years ago in the European Heart Journal found that environmental noise raised a person's risk of having a heart attack "two to three fold."

Researchers speculate that high noise levels send signals to the body that it's in a stressful situation-and that chronic exposure may cause long-term increases in the production of stress hormones. This could end up raising heart rates and blood pressure. Loud, chronic noise can also interfere with a good night's sleep and contribute to hearing loss.


Keep It Quiet

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a person's 24-hour noise exposure should not exceed 70 decibels. Here are the decibel levels of some common activities:

  • Normal conversation is between 50 and 60 decibels
  • A loud rock concert is 115 decibels
  • A jet engine at 100 feet is 140 decibels