Ever see a small child put their hands over their ears when it gets a little noisy in the room? As it turns out, we should all follow their example. Recent research indicates prolonged exposure to loud noise damages our hearing as well as our heart.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss that may have been caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise at work and at play. It’s another explanation for presbycusis, a type of sensorineural hearing loss which researchers previously thought was simply the result of growing older.
Recent studies indicate that prolonged exposure to loud noise levels is detrimental to your heart health as well. A report published in the October 6, 2010 online edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found study participants under the age of 50 working in a noisy environment were three to four times more likely to have angina, heart disease or a heart attack than those working in a quiet environment.
And in June 2012, Denmark researchers found that living next to noisy traffic raised the risk of having a heart attack in the 50-64 year-old participants of their 10-year study. Their findings were featured in an ABC News article.
How does a noisy environment affect your heart? Researchers suspect it causes the same type of stress as sudden, intense emotions, which release strong chemicals that constrict blood flow and elevate your heart rate. Stress also increases the risk for developing high blood pressure and, in the case of noisy traffic, may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Hearing health professionals have known for some time that loud noise damages the hair cells in our inner ear. These hair cells are responsible for converting sound signals into electrical impulses for our brain to interpret. Loud noise permanently damages these hair cells by producing destructive molecules and constricting blood flow to the small vessels of the inner ear.
The good news is noise-related health risks are preventable. The best thing you can do is limit your exposure to environments where noise levels are above 85 decibels (dB). If you know you’ll be working or playing in a potentially noisy situation, such as at a rock concert or when you’re operating loud lawn equipment, wear hearing protection. Foam earplugs are inexpensive and available at most drugstores. Earmuffs may be more comfortable, especially for small children. And, if you’re a hearing aid user, adjust the memory settings on your hearing instruments and wear earmuffs. Your ears – and your heart – will thank you for it.