An increasing body of medical evidence points to systemic, psychological and immediate physical effects that noise can have on human health. Yet, the concept of “safe sound” continues to elude society because the ill effects of exposure to noise may not be apparent immediately.

As in the case of tobacco, it might be years before sound pollution is recognised as a significant public health hazard.

The scientific evidence on the harmful impact of noise on health was summarised by the World Health Organisation in 1999 in formulating the Guidelines for Community Noise.

It has documented at least seven categories of adverse health effects that noise can have on human health.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss, temporary as well as gradual, from chronic exposure to noise is the primary health effect. However, the systemic and psychological effects are long-term, more devastating and can leave permanent scars.

“Hearing is undeniably linked to one’s wellness and safety and loss of hearing can create a lot of quality-of-life issues. Chronic exposure to noise can lead to hearing issues such as tinnitus, which can be temporary or long-term. Issues of comprehension and communication then sets in, making the individual feel isolated, depressed and anxious,” Sreejith N. Kumar, chairman of the Indian Medical Association’s Research Cell, says.

Sleep disturbance

Chronic exposure to noise triggers responses in the endocrine and nervous system, which can increase the blood pressure levels and heart rate, upset the heart rhythm (arrhythmia), affect levels of blood glucose and cortisol in the blood and disturb sleep, all of which are serious cardiovascular risks.

At the psychological level, loud noise can be a stressor, leading to anxiety, irritation, mood changes, altered social behaviour, aggression, poor concentration and poor mental health and even aggravating latent mental disorders.

The most vulnerable groups are the elderly and children.

Doctors point out that these health hazards might not be measurable, but that these are real.

Presbyacusis

The Indian Medical Association and the State chapter of the Association of Otolaryngiologists of India (AOI) have now decided to step in to ensure that society is made better aware of the seriousness of the health hazard posed by noise pollution, so that safe sound is a priority on the minds of everyone.

“We decided to take up the issue of safe sound as some of the health hazards posed by noise pollution is actually beginning to surface. ENT specialists are now seeing a lot many cases of presbyacusis or age-related hearing loss at a much earlier age than it should be happening. This advanced onset of presbyacusis is clearly linked to the fact that we are increasingly being forced to live in an environment of chronic and high decibel levels,” an AOI spokesperson says.

IMA’s initiative

The IMA has thus decided to pilot the National Initiative for Safe Sound in the capital, by taking on board people from all walks of life, including representatives of residents’ associations, religious organisations, the Devaswom Board and law-enforcement officials, and create awareness of the health hazards posed by noise pollution so that the need for fixing safe decibel levels becomes a demand from the community.

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