While city dwellers may favour the economic prosperity that urban environments offer individuals, increased population density can have negative effects on the human body. Specifically, the level of noise in cities remains a problem that policy-makers need to address. Noise pollution is an underestimated health risk, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) that can lead to short- and long-term health problems.
As more people move to cities, populations are generating more noise while going about their daily activities. In fact, a person mowing a lawn will experience more sound pressure than prehistoric people ever would. The advance in technology has also lead to a noisier planet, putting the world’s populations under greater risk of noise-related health problems.
The impact of noise on human populations
The advance of science has opened society’s eyes to the adverse effects noise pollution brings to human populations. Industrial activity can lead to occupational diseases like tinnitus and hearing impairment. At the same time, it is now understood that certain levels of noise can cause long-term illness, even when it does not exceed what is considered safe in industrial or occupational settings.
One of the primary reasons why noise affects human health is because the human ear never sleeps. Our sense of hearing is always on, tuning into any elevated noise levels and focusing attention on sounds that penetrate our consciousness. When this happens in an environment where people live and rest, it can lead to health problems.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that:
- Roughly 40 percent of the European Union’s population experience daily noise levels above 55dB.
- At night, 30 percent of the population has to deal with the same noise levels as during the day.
- 20 percent experience noise levels above 65dB every day in European cities.
The health effects of noise disturbance
Elevated noise inside the home can create sleep disturbances, impair cognitive function, and, when not addressed, can lead to permanent hearing issues. Nightly exposure to elevated noise has also been linked to increased medical visits and sick days. Reducing the effects of noise pollution indoors remains a key challenge for decision-makers in cities around the world. The WHO recommends indoor noise levels of 30dB for sleep and no more than 35dB when working or studying indoors.
Excessive exposure to elevated noise levels can lead to:
- Cardiovascular ailments, including hypertension.
- Sleep disturbance which causes increased stress and annoyance.
- Mental health issues due to inadequate rest cycles.
- Loss of focus, concentration, and cognitive function during the day time.
Managing noise in the indoor environment is vital to keep families healthy and functioning in today’s society. Industrial activity, traffic, and building support systems are all sources of environmental noise that can negatively influence the health and wellbeing of inhabitants. Establishing effective barriers against these sources can reduce the impact of noise and limit sleep disturbances, helping populations to rest and recover from the rigours of daily life.