Let’s focus on your hearing and how protecting it can protect your blood vessels, brain and heart. On Aug. 27, 1883, the loudest Earth-produced noise recorded was emitted when a volcano erupted on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa. The sound could be heard 3,000 miles away and within 40 miles of the explosion, many people’s eardrums were blown out. 

Clearly, loud noise – above 60 decibels is dangerous – but it doesn’t have to be Krakatoa-strong to do damage. Exposure to loud sounds can:

• Damage the hair cells that are responsible in your inner ear for your hearing. They are delicate, and are shortened to non-optimal function by loud noise.

• Interfere with sleep, disrupting your endocrine, metabolic and immune systems.

• Damage your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and heart failure. 

You read that last point right. A review of the evidence in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology provides insight into why the

noise-heart links exists. See that review article had authors doing the hard work to uncover the real data in the scientific literature and then report it accurately to you. 

Loud noises cause stress and chronic exposure to stress hormones boosts blood pressure and damages blood vessels. Plus, one study found that blood vessels’ so-called “calcification burden” increases by almost 4 percent with every 5-decibel increase in nighttime traffic noise, upping the risk of atherosclerosis and arterial stiffening. Loud, persistent noise also affects the autonomic nervous system that regulates organ system functions.

The authors of the review article indicate that chronic exposure to anything above the volume of a normal conversation, about 60 decibels, can trigger such health problems. Maybe extra noise in the United States is why we have so much more heart disease. So, if you live in a noisy environment:

• At night, use sound-dampening earplugs.

• Install sound-blocking shades and drapes.

• Rely on noise-canceling headphones, but not while driving or crossing the street 

• Turn down your earbuds. Canceling out exterior sound with music piped directly into your eardrum is not going to help keep you calm or healthy.

Dr. Michael Roizen writes about wellness for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. 

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