Noise Pollution Increases Risk of Heart Attack and More

Is That Noise Driving You Crazy?

Q: When we first moved into our apartment building on a big intersection, the noise didn’t bother me. But lately every honk or passing truck makes me nuts. What can I do? – Min-shu L., Queens, N.Y.

Drs. Oz & Roizen
Dr. Michael Roizen & Dr. Mehmet Oz

A: Maria Sharapova delivered grunts with her volleys at the U.S. Open stadium (in your neighborhood) that topped out around 101 decibels (dB), far above the average sound level of most urban street traffic (60-80 dB). But you’re talking about a negative reaction to more everyday sounds. It’s not unusual to become more sensitive to constant levels of urban sound over time; it’s kind of like becoming allergic to a food or a plant after repeated exposure.

You’re right to want to tone down your environment. Research shows that traffic and airplane sounds increase adults’ risk for heart attack, high blood pressure, emotional problems, make it harder for kids to learn to read and interfere with memorization and problem solving. Environmental noise causes sleep disturbances, and that leads to health problems like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and a lousy love life. It also reduces productivity and ups emotional distress. So-called phonophobia, or fear of sound, can trigger anxiety in anticipation of noise. So here’s what you can do to find some peace:

Is That Noise Driving You Crazy?-Quiet your bedroom. Hang heavy-duty, sound-dampening curtains over windows, or replace standard windows with sound-proofing glass. Use a white-noise machine to drown out the sounds – in the winter, a humidifier with a fan (always a good move anyway) may do double-duty. Use earplugs, if you can find ones that are comfortable and effective.

-Reduce your stress level and lower your blood pressure by taking up meditation. It won’t make the sound go away, but it can change your response to it and reduce circulating stress hormones such as cortisol; when they’re chronically elevated, it’s bad for the heart and the emotions.

-Use noise-dampening headphones during the day.

-Get a loudness discomfort test (we didn’t make that up) from a hearing specialist. It can help identify specific sound sources that trigger your distress. You also might consider sound exposure therapies to desensitize you to noise.

– Dr. Michael Roizen & Dr. Mehmet Oz

© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, In

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