Exposure to aircraft noise may increase risk of hospitalization for heart problems

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Published October 09, 2013

| FoxNews.com

Living next to an airport may be frustrating due to the constant onslaught of noise, but new research suggests that close proximity to these transportation hubs may also be detrimental to your health.

In a new study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have revealed that elderly people consistently exposed to aircraft noise – especially at high levels – are at an increased risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease.  

“There’ve been a number of studies that have looked at how aircraft noise can affect things like blood pressure or stress or sleep deprivation, and all these things can influence cardiovascular health,” co-author Jonathan Levy, a professor of environmental health at BUSPH and adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH, told FoxNews.com. “So we were interested (in) if we saw an association with cardiovascular hospitalization.”

Published online in the British Medical Journal, Levy’s study is the first major one of its kind to examine the relationship between exposure to aircraft noise and cardiovascular hospitalizations.  His research was published alongside another study conducted by researchers from the Imperial College of London, which found an increased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease among the 3.6 million residents living near London Heathrow airport.

For the HSPH/BUSPH study, Levy and senior author Francesca Dominici, professor of biostatics and associate dean of information technology at HSPH, analyzed data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concerning aircraft noise emitted from 89 airports in the United States.  Additionally, they gathered information on cardiovascular-related hospitalization rates of around 6 million individuals on Medicare living close to these airports.

According to Levy, the amount of residents considered to be living “close” to an airport differed from hub to hub.

“The distance depended on the airport,” Levy said. “We included anyone whose noise exposure was above 45 decibels from the airport itself.  So larger airports extended over a larger geographic region and smaller airports extended over a smaller region.”

Through their analysis, the researchers found a significant association between aircraft noise exposure and hospital admission for cardiovascular disease, even when controlling for other major risk factors such as socioeconomic status, demographic factors, air pollution and roadway proximity.  Residents living in zip codes that experienced aircraft noise 10 decibels higher than average had a 3.5 percent higher cardiovascular hospital admission rate.

Furthermore, the relationship was even stronger as the level of aircraft noise increased.

“There was some evidence that it was even more significant where the noise exposure was above 55 decibels,” Levy said.

Overall, 2.3 percent of the cardiovascular hospital admissions studied were found to be attributable to airport noise.  Given these results, Levy hopes these residents, as well as transportation officials, will consider taking precautionary measures in order to reduce the potentially harmful effects aircraft noise may have on the population.

“Our study was not meant to evaluate interventions, but I think there are clearly things that can be done to reduce exposures to aircraft noise, such as soundproofing of homes that are close to airports, measure that can be taken by (the) FAA or others to reduce noise of their aircrafts,” Levy said. “This certainly could be a beneficial health measure.”

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