by Michael Kahn

Last Updated: 2008-02-13 17:31:53 -0400 (Reuters Health)

LONDON (Reuters) – Living near an airport isn’t just irritating, it is also unhealthy, researchers said on Wednesday, in a study that showed loud noise instantly raises a sleeping person’s blood pressure.

The louder the noise, the higher a person’s blood pressure went, a finding that suggests people who live near airports may have a greater risk of health problems, said Lars Jarup, who led the European Commission-funded study.

"Living near airports where you have exposure to night-time aircraft noise is a major issue," Jarup, an environmental health researcher at the University of Glasgow, told Reuters.

"The reason we did airports is because there was no study that has looked at particular problems of aircraft noise."

The research team showed that people living for at least 5 years near a busy airport and under a flight path have a greater risk of developing hypertension than those who live in quieter areas.

That study of nearly 5,000 people found that an increase in night-time airplane noise of 10 decibels increased the risk of high blood pressure by 14% in both men and women.

"We know that noise from air traffic can be a source of irritation, but our research shows that it can also be damaging for people’s health, which is particularly significant in light of plans to expand international airports," Jarup said.

In the 4-year study, published in the European Heart Journal, the researchers remotely measured the blood pressure of 140 volunteers every 15 minutes while they slept in their homes near London’s Heathrow airport — one of the busiest in the world — and three other major European airports.

They used digital recorders to determine what noises had the biggest impact on blood pressure, ranging from road traffic to a partner’s snoring to an airplane taking off or landing.

The decibel level, not the sound’s origin, was the key factor, and airplanes had the most significant impact, Jarup said. "Most of the time you will find road traffic noise is not too bad during the night," he said. "If you live near an airport where there are night flights, that is quite another story."

Eur Heart J 2008.

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