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Can noise be deadly?

Is working in a noisy environment bad for your health? A new study suggests that it is.

Wen Qi Gan of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and colleagues analyzed data collected from 6,307 adults ages 20 and older who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2004. The participants answered a host of questions, including whether they worked at a place where it was difficult to hear when speaking in a normal conversational volume.

About one in five of the workers said they experienced a noisy workplace for an average of almost nine consecutive months. Compared to those who worked in a quiet environment, those who were chronically exposed to a lot of noise -- meaning for at least three months -- were two to three times more likely to experience heart problems, including chest pain, heart disease and heart attacks, the researchers reported in the jourrnal Occupational Environmental Medicine.


Orchard manager Lee Herring stands in the control room of a hail cannon in Bennington, Vt. The owner of the Southern Vermont Orchards believes he has found a novel way to protect his apples from hail damage: sending a cannon blast of sonic waves into the sky that supposedly prevents the icy chunks from forming. But the sonic boom they create has stirred a debate about noisy farms and the rights of those who live near them.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Workers who smoked appeared to be especially at risk, as were men younger than age 50, the researchers found. There was no association between noise and high cholesterol, but those exposed to a lot of noise were more likely to have high blood pressure.

Exactly how noise may be risky is unclear. But noise may increase levels of stress hormones that constrict blood flow, increasing blood pressure, the researchers say. The findings indicate that chronic exposure to noise at work may be yet another risk factor associated with heart problems as powerful as sudden emotional shocks or physical exertion and thus deserves more attention, they say.

Do you work in a noisy environment?

By Rob Stein  | October 6, 2010; 9:33 AM ET
Categories:  Cardiovascular Health, Chronic Conditions, Environmental Toxins, Smoking  
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