The impact of city sounds on your health


The soundscape of cities around the globe is referred to as environmental noise. This includes sound created by traffic, public transport, flight paths and people talking, which all merge to create a cacophony of sound. The World Health Organisation (WHO) conducted research that deduced healthy noise levels should not exceed 55 decibels during the day and 40 at night.

WHO advises that urban noise is an underestimate to our collective wellbeing, causing a number of short and long-term health problems such as hearing impairment, insomnia, mood swings and impacts on cardiovascular function.

It is worthwhile becoming aware of sounds that can have a detrimental impact on our health. Amplifon Group, the parent company to National Hearing Care, conducted market research, surveying 88,000 people in 47 cities across 11 countries, which provided some valuable insights into the lifestyle choices we make and the level of noise we are exposed to as a result. Being aware of noise levels can help us to make informed lifestyle choices when navigating our exposure to excessive sound. Here’s an insight from the experts.

What causes the noise?

Road traffic, conversation and background music are the most frequent sources of noise in big cities across the world.

In Australia, our neighbours create the most noise. While for our New Zealand cousins conversations among people is the sound that reverberating through its cities. Across the 11 countries addressed in the study, the top six contributors of noise are:

  • roads, with Italy and Portugal ranked as the loudest (75-90 dB) – conversations, with the United States loving the sound of its own voices, and with New Zealand coming in third (60-85dB)
  • background music; Italy tops the charts here too (45-60dB)
  • public transport; Italy and France lead the charge (80-100dB)
  • children are especially vocal in the United States (75-90dB); and
  • neighbours; Italy and the United States have the nosiest and Australia came in third (30-40dB).


What are the noise hazards?

Portugal, Italy, Germany and the United States are all better informed about the risks related to excessive noise exposure, however, awareness does not necessarily alter people’s behaviour.

The study also looked at the impact various noises have on our health, ranging from hearing loss to stress and sleep disorders, to name just a few.

Eating at restaurants was the noisiest activity, with hearing loss and stress the most common health concerns. Portugal is the loudest place to eat out, followed by Italy and then Germany. Australia ranked 8th and New Zealand came in 9th position.

Concerts were the second biggest noise generators, with resultant hearing loss, stress and irritability all on equal footing in regards to the health implications of excessive noise. Australia was the exception in this regard:, we prefer to stay in and watch TV while pumping up the surround sound, which can lead to other issues such as sleep disorders.

What are the symptoms of noise sickness?

Almost one third of the population from 11 countries state they are exposed to high and medium-high levels of noise. These levels of noise exposure almost double the rates of irritability, mood swings, nervousness and worry in people. Likewise, increased noise exposure is associated with an almost doubled rate of reported insomnia and sleep disorders, concentration problems and headaches. Excessive sound levels do create a real “noise sickness”.

The six top cities with the highest health issues relating to noise are ranked as follows:

  1. United States – 40% of those surveyed are exposed to high and high-medium noise which increases negative moods such as irritability and other conditions including sleep disorders by 35%.
  2. New Zealand – 37% respondents experience high to high-medium noise levels with 19% reporting negative moods and 21% experiencing insomnia and headaches.
  3. Australia – 31% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 26% having both mood swings and concentration and sleep issues.
  4. United Kingdom – 30% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 35% having mood swings and 33% experiencing concentration and sleep issues.
  5. Portugal – 30% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 30% having mood swings and 24% experiencing concentration and sleep issues.
  6. Italy – 29% are exposed to high and high-medium noise resulting in 40% experiencing mood swings and 34% reporting concentration and sleep issues.

It is interesting to see Australia and New Zealand ranking so highly in terms of health issues relating to high noise exposure. The evidence presents a good reason to look after your hearing health and have regular hearing checks especially if you are aged 50 +.

How to escape the noise

Do take the time to seek out peace and quiet; it’s good for you.

This article first appeared on the National Hearing Centres blog.

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About Author

The Mind Centre was a counselling and meditation centre for several years before morphing into an information centre for people seeking to know more about mind and body health.

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