9 Oct 2013

Aircraft noise linked to higher rate of heart disease

8:33 pm on 9 October 2013

Two international studies have found that aircraft noise may be leading to a rise in heart and lung disease.

Scientists said noise levels could be linked to more stress, sleep deprivation and high blood pressure in people - findings that could have implications for new airports slated for residential areas in Australia.

Professor Paul Elliott from Imperial College London worked on one study that investigated millions of people living near Heathrow.

He found that people living around the major international airport had a 3.5 per cent higher rate of hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease.

The results were vetted for other factors that could affect the data, including sex, ethnicity and smoking.

The boroughs experience noise levels at least 10 decibels higher than the average loud noise, which sits around 70 decibels.

"We know that acute exposure to loud noises can affect a startled reaction in the person with an increase in heart rate and a short-term increase in blood pressure," he said.

"And there is some evidence that this rise in blood pressure may be sustained if there's continual exposure to louder noises."

A vacuum cleaner is about 70 decibels, a lawnmower is about 90 decibels and a jet engine taking off is more than 100 decibels.

US study matches

Another similar study, conducted by academics at the Boston University School of Public Health and Harvard School of Public Health, looked at six million people aged 65 or more, living around major airports in the United States.

Professor Jon Levy says his results are consistent with the UK findings, with a 2.3 per cent higher rate of hospital admissions.

"The health effects of noise should be thought about and taken into account when looking at airports and airport sitting or expansion," he said.

In the United States, the noise study is being analysed by the US Federal Aviation Authority, which partly funded the research.

Professor Levy says there needs to be a focus on strategies that reduce aircraft noise exposure, including the soundproofing of homes, modified flight paths, and quieter aircraft.

Both studies were published in the latest British Medical Journal.