You probably knew that being in a noisy place can increase your risk of hearing loss over time. But did you know that too much noise can also boost your risk for heart attacks, strokes, chest pain, and heart failure?
A 2014 study of 5223 people, ages 20-69, found that people with hearing loss in both ears due to being around loud sounds had a greater risk of heart problems. Those who were exposed to noise through their jobs had an even greater risk.
Living or working near a busy road, airport, or railroad tracks can also take a toll on both your hearing and your heart. A 2018 study found a link between transportation noises and a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
There are several possible reasons for the connection between noise and heart health. Too much noise may make it harder to get a good night’s sleep, causing stress the next day. That may trigger the release of hormones and substances in your body that cause inflammation.
Over the long term, inflammation can damage blood vessels, triggering heart attacks and strokes. (There are tests to see if you have hidden signs of inflammation that warn of heart risks. Go to KnowYourRisk for more information.)
A new study shows another way that noise harms the heart. Investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital found that centers in the brain that are associated with stress are turned on during times when people are hearing loud noises.
The brain area called the amygdala was found to be especially important. It’s a part of the brain that is active when you are under stress and helps manage strong emotions like fear.
Researchers used special tests called PET-CT to study almost 500 people in the trial. Those with higher levels of noise showed greater activity in the amygdala and an increase in harmful inflammation in their blood vessels.
Later, researchers looked at the people in the study who went on to have heart attacks, strokes, chest pain, or blocked arteries. Those who had been around a lot of noise had more of these heart problems.
What can you do to lower the volume—and protect your heart and hearing?
- If you work or live in a very noisy place or near heavy traffic, wear foam or silicone earplugs—even when you sleep.
- Wear earplugs when you are vacuuming, running a lawn mower or leaf blower, or using a hair dryer. Many blow-dryers produce sounds around 90 decibels (the same as a motorcycle!) and anything above 85 can cause hearing loss.
- If you have a choice, use paper towels at public restrooms instead of the loud hand blow-dryers.
- Keep the volume down on your iPhone and other devices that use headsets and earphones. You may want to listen to your favorite music at a loud setting, but that’s not a good idea. Softer sounds will protect your health.
- Be cautious at the gym. Researchers at Wichita State University in Kansas found that many health clubs blast music at more than 100 decibels during fitness classes. If you can’t hear the voice of someone next to you, the sound levels are too high. Again, earplugs can help protect your health.
- Even some restaurants have very high noise levels. Find a quieter place to eat to protect your hearing and your heart!