Noise can have numerous adverse impacts on health: nuisance, sleep disturbance, increased blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and children’s lower school performance.
The most important effects resulting from noise levels in the residential environment are nuisance and sleep disturbance. Nuisance is considered to be a health impact as defined by the WHO and the Health Council of the Netherlands. It is a feeling of aversion, anger, discomfort, dissatisfaction or annoyance that occurs when an environmental factor negatively influences someone’s thoughts, feelings or activities.
Sleep disturbance comprises various effects, such as taking longer to fall asleep, waking up during the night, increased motor activity during sleep and waking up prematurely. It also includes secondary effects that manifest the day after a sleep-disturbed night, such as bad mood, fatigue and reduced performance ability.
Relationships found between the traffic noise burden (on the most exposed façade of the house) and the degree of nuisance and sleep disturbance, have been accepted as the best available for European policy on noise.
The degree of noise nuisance depends not only on noise burden but also on factors such as irritation about the causers of the noise, believing the production of noise to be unnecessary, confidence in policy or in the government, expecting that in the future the noise will increase or decrease, fear and sensitivity to noise. These are non-acoustic factors. They may result locally in the overall calculated percentage of affected persons deviating markedly from the actual number of persons affected.
Effects on health
Epidemiological studies have established that exposure to noise increases the risk of higher blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, particularly of coronary heart disease. Such disease results in the coronary arteries becoming clogged with fatty material, causing the heart muscle to be deprived of oxygen. The two most well-known diagnoses are acute heart attack and angina. A recent meta-analysis found that a 10 dB increase in noise burden increased the risk of coronary disease by 4%. Various meta-analyses have indicated that at noise levels from about 50 dB Lden the risk of these health impacts increases (Houthuijs et al., 2014).
Effects on school performance
Research on schools near airports has shown that increased noise burden can also adversely affect the school performance of children, such as their short-term memory, attention span and comprehensive reading. These effects may persist for several months after the noise nuisance has been reduced.