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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Effect of Transportation Noise on Health and Cognitive Development:A Review of Recent Evidence


Noise from transport is an increasingly prominent feature of the urban environment. Whilst the auditory effects of noise on humans are established, non-auditory effects - the effects of noise exposure on human health, well-being and cognitive development - are less well established. This narrative review evaluates recent studies of aircraft and road traffic noise that have advanced or synthesized knowledge about several aspects of adult and child health and cognition. Studies have demonstrated a moderate effect of transport noise on hypertension, cardiovascular disease and catecholamine secretion: there is also evidence for an effect on psychological symptoms but not for the onset of more serious clinically defined psychiatric disorder. One way noise may affect health is through annoyance: noise causes annoyance responses in both children and adults and annoyance may cause stress-responses and subsequent illness. Another possible mechanism is sleep disturbance: transport noise has been found to disturb sleep in laboratory and field studies, although there is evidence for adaptation to noise exposure. For children effects of aircraft and road traffic noise have been observed for impaired reading comprehension and memory skills: there is equivocal evidence for an association with blood pressure. To date most health effects have been very little researched and studies have yet to examine in detail how noise exposure interacts with other environmental stressors. In conclusion, noise is a main cause of environmental annoyance and it negatively affects the quality of life of a large proportion of the population. In addition, health and cognitive effects, although modest, may be of importance given the number of people increasingly exposed to environmental noise and the chronic nature of exposure.

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