Nighttime Air Traffic Noise can Increase Blood Pressure: Study

Noise at night from airport and road traffic can increase blood pressure during sleep, according to a new study.

The findings could give ammunition to opponents of noise pollution and proposed airport expansions, including at London’s Heathrow, one of four European air hubs examined in the study.

The three others airports serve Athens, Stockholm and Milan.

A team of European scientists led by Lars Jarup of Imperial College London monitored 140 sleeping volunteers in their homes near the airports, checking blood pressure every 15 minutes with remote devices.

They found that a noise louder than 35 decibels – corresponding to a plane flying overhead or heavy vehicle traffic – provoked a spike in blood pressure.

Even a partner snoring loudly could produce the same effect, said the study, published in European Heart Journal by the European Society of Cardiologists.

“The short-term effects of loud noise during sleep have been documented in the laboratory settings but not in populations living under normal conditions,” said co-author Klea Katsouyanni, a researcher at the University of Athens Medical School.

People with high blood pressure – also called hypertension – have an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and dementia, previous research has shown.

High blood pressure is defined by the World Health Organisation as being 140/90 or more.

The first number measures maximum heart pressure (systolic), while the second measures pressure when the heart is in a resting phase (diastolic).

Aircraft noise caused an average increase of 6.2 in systolic blood pressure, and 7.4 for diastolic blood pressure. The figures for heavy road traffic were only slightly less.

The loudness, rather than the source, was the critical factor in boosting blood pressure, the researchers found.

“We know that noise from air traffic can be a source of irritation, but our research shows that it can also be damaging for people’s health,” said epidemiologist Lars Jarup of Imperial College London.

Parallel findings by the same researchers to be published next month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives show that people that live under a busy flight path for at least five years are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, Jarup said.

An increase in night-time airplane noise of 10 decibels, he said, enhanced the risk of high blood pressure by 14 percent in both men and women. The second study monitored 6,000 men and women.

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