Aircraft noise linked to strokes and heart disease, study shows

Linked British and American study found risk went up 3.5% for every extra 10 decibels of noise

A study published online by the ‘British Medical Journal’ looking at the health of people living near Heathrow airport found those with the highest exposure were 10-20 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital for stroke, heart disease and cardiovascular illness. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

A study published online by the ‘British Medical Journal’ looking at the health of people living near Heathrow airport found those with the highest exposure were 10-20 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital for stroke, heart disease and cardiovascular illness. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Wed, Oct 9, 2013, 01:02

People who live close to an airport and are exposed to constant loud noise may face an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to research from the UK and the US published last night .

A study published online by the British Medical Journal looking at the health of people living near Heathrow airport found those with the highest exposure were 10-20 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital for stroke, heart disease and cardiovascular illness. There was also an increased risk of death from the diseases.

A linked study of the health of more than six million Americans over the age of 65 living around 89 US airports found that, on average, their risk went up 3.5 per cent for every extra 10 decibels of noise. The scientists warn that what they have found is a link and not proof that high aircraft noise levels cause disease.

But, says Prof Stephen Stansfeld at Queen Mary University of London: “These studies provide preliminary evidence that aircraft noise exposure is not just a cause of sleep disturbance ... but may also increase morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease.

“Planners need to take this into account when expanding airports in heavily populated areas or planning new airports.”

The UK study was carried out by researchers at the UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit and MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health. They looked at the health of residents of 12 London boroughs and nine districts outside London where aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels – about the volume of a normal conversation in a room – between 2001 and 2005.

Those who had to put up with the highest noise levels – more than 63 decibels in the day or 55 decibels at night – had the highest risks. They make up about 2 per cent of the 3.6 million people covered by the study.

“The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill-health is not well established,” said the lead author, Dr Anna Hansell, from Imperial College London. “However, it is plausible that it might be contributing, for example by raising blood pressure or by disturbing sleep.”

The US study was carried out by scientists at the Harvard school of public health and Boston University school of public health. They found that 2.3 per cent of hospitalisations for cardiovascular disease among older people living near airports were attributable to aircraft noise. – (Guardian service)