Are Loud Noises Hurting Your Heart?

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Long term exposure to loud noises can certainly increase your risk for hearing loss, but did you know that these same sounds can also increase your risk for heart attacks? While going to rock concerts and dance clubs might seem like innocuous ways to spend time, they may be contributing to some serious negative long-term health effects.

According to a number of different studies, exposure to noise pollution can increase one’s risk for hypertension, myocardial infarction (the medical term for a ‘heart attack’ and even strokes. But how can the noises we listen to affect our cardiovascular health?

The Research

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky, Hofstra University, and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System investigated the connection between bilateral hearing loss (loss of hearing in both ears) and the prevalence of coronary heart disease and found some surprising results. After examining over 5,000 patients between the ages of 20 and 69, the researchers found that, when compared with their normal-hearing counterparts, people with hearing loss were more likely to have coronary heart disease, even after adjusting for other risk factors like smoking.

While this study found a correlation between bilateral hearing loss and coronary heart disease, it did not offer any explanations as to why this might be the case. Another study from researchers in Germany and at the University of Pennsylvania found that the body actually undergoes physiological changes in response to acute noises that may increase one’s risk for cardiovascular illness.

Essentially, the researchers found that exposure to noise, particularly at night, can result in sleep disturbance and hearing loss, both of which increase physiological stress reactions in the body. Both the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system work to create this stress reaction, which results in increased blood pressure, changes in blood viscosity and cardiac output, and altered levels of blood lipids and glucose, among others.

All of these changes increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, especially when combined with other high-risk health complications and lifestyle choices, such as smoking. Ultimately, these risk factors may manifest themselves as various cardiovascular diseases which increase one’s risk for an acute myocardial infarction – what we traditionally refer to as a ‘heart attack’.

Research Implications

While exposure to loud noise does not necessarily mean that someone will have a heart attack, long term exposure to loud noises and noise pollution has been connected to physiological changes within the body that increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Based on these findings, it is imperative that people who are already at risk of cardiovascular disease consider the different ways in which they can limit their future exposure to dangerously loud noises.

Moreover, this research suggests that we should be wary of loud noises in our day to day life, even if we are generally low-risk for heart disease. People who live in particularly noisy places, such as cities, or people who work in loud environments, such as in factories or construction sites, should also consider ways to reduce their exposure to loud noises, such as through the use of custom molded earplugs.

Ultimately, the research suggests that our hearing health can have drastic implications for our heart, so if you’re concerned that you may be suffering from hearing loss or the effects of long-term noise exposure, a consultation with a hearing healthcare professional can help you live life on your terms.

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