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Aviation noise can affect human health and wellbeing in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common adverse health effects associated with aviation noise:
The most widespread and well documented subjective response to noise is annoyance; which can be defined as a feeling of resentment, displeasure, discomfort, dissatisfaction or offence which occurs when noise interferes with thoughts, feelings or activities. The annoyance of populations exposed to environmental noise varies not only with the sound itself (such as how loud it is, or its pitch), but also with social, psychological or economic factors.
There has been considerable research into the effect of aircraft noise on cognitive performance in school children, due to the interruptive nature of high levels of aircraft noise. Research has suggested effects on reading comprehension and memory. Cognitive performance affects attention, perception, mood, learning and memory.
Aircraft noise is intermittent in nature and exposure to it during the night may result in sleep disturbance. Noise-induced sleep disturbance refers to awakenings, changes to sleep structure such as changes to sleep stages, arousals in heart rate, and body movements. People can be aware of such disturbance, such as when they remember being awoken by noise, or the disturbance can go unnoticed at the time but may result in next-day fatigue.
Aircraft noise at high levels can be considered a stressor on the body, and research has found an association between high levels of aircraft noise and an increased risk of developing Cardiovascular disease (CVD). It is thought that this occurs due to the way such stressors interact with the body, and the fact that the cardiovascular response to noise does not decrease, even though the individual may no longer consciously notice or react to the noise. Cardiovascular disease includes all the diseases of the heart and circulation including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease and stroke.
Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) are a means of measuring both the duration and quality of life, and are typically used to measure the health benefits of medical interventions or the detriment caused by negative health effects.
A year of life lived at perfect health (or 'quality of life') is considered equal to one QALY, while a year lived in imperfect 'quality of life' would be considered to be less than a QALY. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): “Quality of life is often measured [on a 0 to 1 scale] in terms of the person's ability to carry out the activities of daily life, and freedom from pain and mental disturbance.”
Research has been undertaken to assess the levels at which aircraft noise exposure can lead to the health effects described above, and the effects of varying levels of noise exposure. The CAA has summarised the findings below. Further information is available on
how noise and its effects are defined and measured.
The table below shows:
Taking cardiovascular disease as an example, the table shows that a person’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease rise at regular exposure to aircraft noise at 65 dB Leq,16hr and above. It also shows that populations exposed to 65 dB Leq,16hr typically lose 0.1 QALYs per person as a result of increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Populations exposed to 70 dB Leq,16hr lose 0.2 QALYs per person due to an increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.
Figures in each dB column indicate the number of QALYs lost per person as a result of the health effect in question in populations exposed to different levels of aviation noise. Sources:
Reports on the relationship between aviation noise and human health and wellbeing cover:
We publish regular updates on recent work and findings in the field of aircraft noise and health effects to provide a succinct overview of new work relating to aviation noise and health.
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