Traffic noise ‘increases your risk of a heart attack’

Exposure to traffic noise increases your risk of having a heart attack, according to research published in the journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International.

The research, which forms part of the Noise-Related Annoyance, Cognition, and Health study, aimed specifically to investigate the health consequences of noise pollution caused by traffic.

The researchers analysed data gathered by statutory health insurers on over a million Germans over the age of 40.

The addresses of participants were mapped and precisely matched to road, rail, and traffic noise exposure measurements made in 2005.

They found a ‘statistically significant’ association between noise exposure and death caused by heart attacks. They also found that the slight increase in risk is most pronounced in proximity to road and rail traffic. It is believed that this is because air traffic noise only briefly rises above 65 decibels.

The study’s authors believe that the number of people affected by noise pollution warrants ‘intensive’ public health efforts to reduce traffic noise.

Instant analysis
The researchers compared the exposure to traffic noise of 19,632 patients who had suffered a heart attack with 834,734 people who had not suffered a heart attack. They found that people exposed to noise levels of 60 to 65 decibels had a nine per cent increase in risk, and those exposed to more than 70 decibels a 13 per cent increase.

Though these increases are significant in the statistical sense, it is doubtful whether they are significant in any other. No matter how many times it may have been pointed out that correlation is not causation, the authors conclude: ‘A large proportion of the population is exposed to levels of traffic noise that our case–control study indicates to be associated with increased – if only slightly increased – risks of [myocardial infarction]. For this reason, effective control of traffic noise is a matter of great importance.’

Does this mean that traffic noise would be all right if it didn’t (allegedly) increase the rate of heart attacks?
TD
Research score: 1/5