How Noise Can Affect Your Health

Everywhere we go we’re surrounding by noise — whether it’s the sounds of nature, traffic on the roads, construction work, music, television, or people around us talking. There’s no escaping it. However, we don’t often think about the impact that everyday noise can have on our health. For example, that favourite song of yours that you’re playing on full volume on your ear buds while working out at the gym? It can actually cause significant damage to your hearing and can have long-lasting, irreversible effects. When our ears pick up sound waves, those waves then get sent to the temporal lobe for interpretation. The brain then determines whether or not the sounds you’re hearing are pleasant, or if they’re unwanted. But it’s not just your hearing that can be affected by noise. Your overall health and wellbeing can be, too.

One of the most common negative impacts that noise can have on an individual is that it can make them less productive. For example, if you’re at your job trying to get work done or studying for a test. Significant or ongoing noise can be aggravating, to say the least, but it can also make you lose all train of thought and concentration, which can equal poor performance at work or at school, with projects, on exams, etc. Noise can also decrease one’s ability to intake important information. This lack of concentration and inability to retain detail can also lead to increased anxiety and other problems with mental health, such as depression.

Noise can also be problematic for multitaskers. Multitasking takes some serious determination and willpower as it is, not to mention dedication and extreme focus on whatever it is you’re doing. While many people are good at multitasking and blocking out distractions (such as noise) even when there is a lot going on around them, just the tiniest bit of sound can be enough to throw others entirely off-track, and can make it difficult for those individuals to get back to what they were doing and pick up where they left off before they were so suddenly distracted and disrupted. Some people say that listening to music with noise-cancelling headphones can actually help distract them from what’s going on around them, making their ability to multitask much easier; and while music can certainly boost the mood and make you feel more alter, science has actually shown that it can decrease that ability to focus and remember important things. So, if you’re trying to stay focused and want to get all of your multitasking done, it’s recommended that you leave off the headphones.

Living in a noisy neighbourhood or normal building (if you’re in an apartment or condominium, for example), or sharing a home with others, can also be detrimental to your health. If you’re chronically exposed to noise, this can lead to an increase in stress, which can then lead to an increase in blood pressure and that puts you at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The same goes for transportation noise, such as airplanes flying overhead, or loud trucks and buses. The best thing to do before moving into any new neighbourhood or building is to do your research — and don’t be afraid to ask your landlord or potential fellow tenants if those living around you are quiet, as well as what the neighbourhood is like during certain times of the day — especially the evening when you’re in need of sleep.

There’s also something known as infrasound. Infrasound is defined as sound waves that are below the lower limit of human audibility — and while you may not be able to hear this type of noise, some evidence has suggested that it can still be perceived by the human body and can cause things stress and anxiety. For example, when walking through a haunted house or having a gut feeling about something, you may get what you can describe as a chill running up and down your spine, when in fact this may be associated to infrasound. You can find out more information about infrasound by clicking here.

Originally published at on October 10, 2018.

Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.