Long-term Exposure to Aircraft Noise Linked to High Blood Pressure


An airplane flies over a high-rise apartment building in Hong Kong. Patrick Foto/Getty Images
An airplane flies over a high-rise apartment building in Hong Kong. Patrick Foto/Getty Images

Living in a home within easy reach of an airport could lead to high blood pressure, heart flutters and, in some cases, stroke, according to new research.

Before everyone within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius of a major airport puts a for-sale sign in the front yard, researchers caution that the field of study is small and new, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions about cause and effect. Other factors, such as air pollution, could be involved.

An airplane approaches the Heathrow airport in London, England, flying near residential housing.
An airplane approaches the Heathrow airport in London, England, flying near residential housing.
Charles Bowman/Getty Images

As it turns out, long-term life under frequent flight paths seems to be far more serious than just annoying noise levels — especially when that noise is experienced at night. A new study published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine used data from 420 people who live near the international airport in Athens, Greece, roughly 600 airplanes land and depart daily, to link long-term exposure to aircraft noise to a disturbing trifecta of health issues.

The new study built upon a similar data-gathering mission that looked at the health impacts of aircraft noise on six groups of people living new six major European airports from 2004 to 2006.

The current study analyzed from 2006, the date the previous study ended, to that collected in 2013. About half of the 420 participants had been regularly exposed to more than 55 decibels of daytime aircraft noise and about one-third experienced more than 45 dB of nighttime aircraft noise. For comparison, a rock concert or leaf blower both reach about 115 dB.

Once researchers had a handle on noise levels, they explored changes in the group's health. Between 2006 and 2013, 71 people (17 percent of the group) received first-time diagnoses of high blood pressure, and 44 (10.5 percent)were discovered to have a heart-fluttering cardiac arrhythmia. These elevated noise levels were linked to all other existing cases of high blood pressure, too. And 18 people (4 percent) involved in the study had heart attacks, which researchers connected to the daily exposure to aircraft noise.

And the louder the aircraft noise, the more damaging it was to participants' health, particularly at night. For every additional 10 dB of nighttime aircraft noise over the typical 45 dB, researchers observed a 69 percent higher risk for developing high blood pressure. In some cases, the risk was more than double with every additional 10 dB of aircraft noise.

Nighttime aircraft noise doubled the risk of cardiac arrhythmia for the entire group. There also appeared to be a greater risk of stroke (often associated with high blood pressure), but it was not statistically significant in this size of group, said researchers.