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Aircraft Noise and Your Health

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 10 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
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We all understand that if you live near a flight path, then the resulting aircraft noise would be very disturbing for most people. However, can it directly affect your health?

The HYENA Project

Scientists recently conducted a study to show that noise from aircraft can actually raise your blood pressure, even when asleep.

Their research was carried out in conjunction with the 'Hypertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports' (HYENA) study, a research project spanning four years, which is looking at the associated health effects of exposure to aero plane noise.

The Aircraft Noise Study

Researchers from a number of institutions, including Imperial College London, studied the effects of aircraft noise on 140 volunteers while they slept.

The participants all lived near major European airports and had their blood pressure measured remotely every fifteen minutes.

The results were interesting. What the researchers found was that whenever a ‘plane went across, and the sleepers experienced what was called a ‘noise event’ (a noise exceeding 35 decibels), it had an immediate effect on their body. Blood pressure went up significantly, and in direct relation to the loudness of the noise, so that the louder the noise, the higher the rise in blood pressure. The effect was the same whether the volunteer remained asleep or woke up; for each 5 decibel increase in noise level, there was a 0.66 mmHg rise in systolic blood pressure.

It is not known exactly how and why the body responds to the noise in this way, but a hypothesis is that the brain reacts to noise by increasing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Aircraft Noise Increases Blood Pressure

The same researchers had also previously discovered that people who had been living under a flight path or near an international airport for at least five years, had a greater risk of developing high blood pressure than those residing in a quieter area and that the risk was increased by 14% in both men and women if they also suffered from night-time noise from aircrafts of 10 decibels. This means that living under a flight path could nearly double your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Blood Pressure And Heart Disease

People who suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure, are at a higher risk of developing other conditions such as kidney disease, stroke, dementia, and heart disease and so more work is now being carried out to assess whether prolonged exposure to aircraft noise as well as pollution will increase the risk and incidence of heart disease.

Reductions In Aircraft Noise Are Called For

So what precautions do airports take to protect our health and our peace? Responding to the study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, the Government say that noise at our major airports is improving with a curfew on night-time flights being implemented by Heathrow so that restrictions apply between 11pm and 7am.

However, if it is proven that excessive aircraft noise is significantly harming the health of those people who live near airports, then we may see further restrictions put in place in the future.

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