Researchers find a link between traffic noise and tinnitus
There is a correlation between traffic noise and risk of developing tinnitus, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have found. They point to a vicious cycle involving stress reactions and sleep disturbance as a potential cause.
If you live near a busy road, it may increase your stress levels and affect your sleep. When we are under stress and sleep poorly, we may be at a higher risk of developing tinnitus.
In a new study with data from 3.5 million Danes, researchers from the Department of Clinical Research and the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) have found that the more traffic noise Danish residents are exposed to in their homes, the more they are at risk of developing tinnitus.
Tinnitus is most clearly manifested by annoying whistling tones in the ears, which are disturbing for many.
Risk increases with noise levels
It is the first time that researchers have found a link between residential traffic noise exposure and hearing-related outcomes.
-In our data, we have found more than 40,000 cases of tinnitus and can see that for every ten decibels more noise in people’s home, the risk of developing tinnitus increases by six percent, says Manuella Lech Cantuaria, PhD., Assistant Professor at the Mærsk Mc-Kinney-Møller Institute and affiliated to the the Department of Clinical Research at SDU.
She and her colleague Jesper Hvass Schmidt, Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Research and Chief Physician at Odense University Hospital (OUH) are concerned about the many health problems that traffic noise seems to cause.
It is alarming that noise seems to increase the risk of tinnitus, cardiovascular diseases and dementia, among other diseases
Facts about traffic noise:
- The Danish guidance level for harmful traffic noise is 58 decibels. It is estimated that 1.4 million Danes are exposed to noise over 58 decibels in their homes.
- You can see the noise level for your place of residence here: dingeo.dk
- It is a myth that replacing fuel cars by electric cars can significantly reduce traffic noise exposure at people’s houses. The noise comes mainly from the contact between the tires and the road.
- In Germany, speed limits have been lowered in some places at night, in order to minimize the disturbance of sleep for residents near roads.
- Another way to reduce traffic noise is by placing noise barriers along the road or changing the road surface to one that dampens the tire noise.
In 2021, they found a correlation between traffic noise and dementia.
-There is a need for more focus on the importance of traffic noise for health. It is alarming that noise seems to increase the risk of tinnitus, cardiovascular diseases and dementia, among other diseases, says Jesper Hvass Schmidt.
Tip of the iceberg
It is at hearing clinics, such as the one at OUH, where Jesper Hvass Schmidt works, that patients can get the diagnosis of tinnitus. But only the worst cases are referred from their own doctor or an otorhinolaryngologist . The high number of reported cases of tinnitus are probably only the tip of the iceberg, he believes.
-In general, about ten percent of the population experience tinnitus from time to time. It is associated with stress and poor sleep, which can be worsened by traffic noise, and here we have a potential cycle.
More studies are needed so that researchers can be sure that traffic noise causes tinnitus, and how this happens.
-But we know that traffic noise can make us stressed and affect our sleep. And that tinnitus can get worse when we live under stressful situations and we do not sleep well, Jesper Hvass Schmidt says.
It is necessary that traffic noise is considered a health risk that must be taken into account in urban planning and political decisions
The researchers believe that noise at nighttime can be even worse for health
- It affects our sleep, which is so important for restoring both our physical and mental health. Therefore, it is worth considering whether you can do something to improve your sleep if you live next to a busy road, Manuella Lech Cantuaria says.
What to do
In the study, higher associations were found when noise was measured at the quiet side of their houses, that is, the side facing away from the road. This is where most people would place their bedroom whenever possible, therefore researchers believe this is a better indicator of noise during sleep.
-There are different things one can do to reduce noise in their homes, for example by sleeping in a room that does not face the road or by installing soundproof windows.
But not everyone has those options.
-It is therefore necessary that traffic noise is considered a health risk that must be taken into account in urban planning and political decisions, says Manuella Lech Cantuaria.
Facts on tinnitus:
- Tinnitus is a subjective experience of sound that does not come from an external source.
- It can be described as a ringing, buzzing, humming or other form of sound in the ears or in the head.
- Tinnitus can be a symptom of an underlying disease or injury, but can also be idiopathic, which means the cause is not known.
- Very often tinnitus occurs in connection with hearing loss.
- Tinnitus can have a negative impact on quality of life as it can cause sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, and depression.
- There are several possibilities to reduce tinnitus symptoms, including psychological treatment and hearing aids.
About the study
The study is a collaboration between researchers from the Department of Clinical Researh and Mærsk McKinney-Møller Institute at University of Southern Denmark and Roskilde University.
The main authors are Manuella Lech Cantuaria and Ellen Raben Pedersen (MMMI), Jesper Hvass Schmidt (KI), and Mette Sørensen (Roskilde University).
Read the article in Environmental Health Perspectives here.
Meet the researcher
Manuella Lech Cantuaria is a Assistant Professor at the Mærsk McKinney-Møller Institute and the Department of Clinical Research, SDU.
Meet the researcher
Jesper Hvass Schmidt is a Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Research, SDU, and Chief Physician at Odense University Hospital.
Meet the researcher
Ellen Raben Pedersen, Associate Professor at the Mærsk McKinney-Møller Institute
Meet the researcher
Mette Sørensen, Professor at Roskilde University and senior scientist at the Danish Cancer Society.