It is a proven fact that persons who work in loud places for long periods of time can suffer loss of hearing, but researchers are now saying that they may also risk developing heart disease.  Can you imagine spending eight or ten hours per day working in an atmosphere where you have to yell at each other to be heard?  More than twenty million Americans work in noisy industrial settings. 

A new finding from animal research also shows evidence that too much noise can be bad for the heart; however, some scientists suggest that the changes may be no more than part of the body’s general response to stress.  Research over the past twenty years suggests that noise exposure contributes to high blood pressure, which has been apparent in studies.  It makes sense that the excessive noise can be as stressful to the body as extreme physical exercise or high-anxiety. Noise increases the body’s level of adrenaline and cortisol, (stress hormones), meaning that your heart could be affected.  Whether at the factory or on a construction site, noise at work is a known health hazard, with studies showing it increases hearing loss, sleep problems and psychological stress, but what about the heart? 

Currently, researchers have analyzed data on more than 6,0000 working adults, age 20 and older, to see if those working in a loud environment for at least three months have a higher risk of heart disease and related problems.  Data was taken from a large ongoing study called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included interviews of participants about their health and lifestyle, as well as work situation.  They were given medical exams, as well.  The findings were striking – after taking into account several factors that are known to increase the risk of heart problems, (age, smoking, and overweight), researchers discovered that workers in loud environments were twice as likely to have heart disease compared with those in quieter settings.  They were almost three times as likely to have chest pain (angina).  The link was particularly strong for people under 50, who were between three and four times more likely to have angina or heart disease.  These workers’ “bad” cholesterol levels were not particularly high, nor were their overall blood pressure readings.  However, they were twice as likely to have high diastolic blood pressure (the lower number on a blood pressure reading).  Raised diastolic pressure has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. 

Workplace noise is an occupational hazard that managers and employers should be concerned about.  It should be discussed by workers with their managers for prompt corrective measures, not only because it could possibly lead to heart disease, but more importantly, it can cause hearing impairment.  There are not too many options to reduce noise hazards in the industrial setting.  The most straightforward is wearing of earplugs, which can lower noise intensity by 20-30 decibels.  Finding the connection between industrial noise and heart disease is perplexing; some researchers think that noise is the stressor, so maybe that is where it all starts.  More research is being done on this important subject, but in the meantime, this study provides extra incentive to take precautions, such as wearing earplugs or safety earmuffs, to minimize noise exposure.