Heart risks increase near airports

The sound of airplanes is clearly linked to a greater risk of cardiac incidents, if the latest issue of the British Medical Journal is to be believed.

According to the publication’s editor, these are two of the most extensive studies ever published. It was already known that airplane noise raises the blood pressure of the surrounding inhabitants. What was not known was the effect on cardiovascular risks. The first team studied the neighborhoods around Heathrow Airport in London using a noise register in the middle of the runways. The study involved over 3 million people. The researchers compared the populations that are the most subjected to noise above 65 decibels to those exposed to a maximum of 51 decibels. The difference is impressive: those who are most exposed show a 24% increased risk of becoming hospitalized for a stroke and 21% for heart-related diseases such as cardiac arrests. The risk of any cardiovascular disease is increased by 14%.

The negative effect is apparent over time. A second study concentrated on 89 American airports and people over 65 years old. The proportion is direct: for every 10-decibel increase in air traffic noise, the rate of hospitalization for cardiovascular disease increases by 3.5%, as do deaths linked to these diseases. Aircraft noise could be directly responsible for almost 3% of all hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease among older people living close to airports.

Continual adrenaline

Scientists are hypothesizing a sympathetic system mechanism. The disturbance caused by the noise leads to greater adrenaline secretion. This in turn raises the heart rate while constricting blood vessels. Continuous stress causes continuous production of this hormone and leads to hypertension. These factors then lead to cardiovascular risk. Researchers have not been able to differentiate any risks specific to night noise. “There is, though, another possible explanation to this increased risk that is not mentioned by the authors. It could be an increase in sleep difficulties due to the noise. An Inserm [Institute of Health and Medical Research] researcher demonstrated that the death rate rose by 30% because of the daytime sleepiness brought on by disrupted sleep due to hypertension associated by noise in the surrounding environment,” explains Professor Christophe Scavée of the Saint-Luc University clinics.

The researchers confirmed that they had eliminated other possible causes that could be mistaken for the aircraft noises such as air quality or ethnic origin. These results should lead to future, more substantial studies. This data could help the authorities make decisions when expanding existing airports or building new airport facilities near densely populated areas, since the adverse effects on health have been shown to increase.


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One Response to Heart risks increase near airports

  1. Paul says:

    One train can hide another one…this article about “airplane noise” is obviously inspired by the Brussels anti-Zaventem league of NIMBY specialists who have been lobbying, in one way or another, against Brussels Airport. From the analysis of the above article we learn several interesting things, eliciting questions. When “using a noise register in the middle of the runways”, what would one think a typical take-off decibel reading would be? What is the difference (in noise level) between “over 65 db” and “maximum 51 db”, bearing in mind that the first reference could as well mean “120 db” as “66 db”, and that probably very few readers in fact realise how low a reading of 51 db really is. I have no doubt at all that an automobile typically doing just over the speed limit in my street (as they usually do), produces far above 51 db, so they should be banned? My opinion is that life is dangerous: once can die from it, in fact, it’s the consequence of being born.

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