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Health effects of noise

According to the findings of the World Health Organisation (WHO), noise is the second largest environmental cause of health problems, just after the impact of air quality (particulate matter).

The World Health Organization's Night Noise Guidelines for Europe present evidence of the health damage of night-time noise exposure and recommend threshold values above which adverse effects on human health are observed. An annual average night exposure not exceeding 40 decibel (dB) has been recommended in the Guidelines.

Sleepers that are exposed to night noise levels above 40dB on average throughout the year can suffer health effects like sleep disturbance and awakenings. Above 55dB long-term average exposure, noise can trigger elevated blood pressure and lead to ischaemic heart disease.

A study commissioned by DG Environment on the Health implication of road, railway and aircraft noise in the European Union  found that exposure to noise in Europe contributes to:

  • about 910 thousand additional prevalent cases of hypertension,
  • 43 thousand hospital admissions per year, and
  • at least 10 thousand premature deaths per year related to coronary heart disease and stroke.

Since this study was based on partial data on noise exposure, the overall health effects in the entire EU are likely to be even higher than currently estimated.

The WHO is currently working on revised Community Noise Guidelines for Europe, which are expected to present state-of-the-art evidence on the health effects of noise and updated recommendations on acceptable exposures levels.

The WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Therefore, a high level of annoyance caused by environmental noise is considered as one of the environmental health burdens, and thus taken into account when estimating the health effects of noise.