Tinnitus is a common hearing disorder manifested by persistent and annoying ringing in the ears or head that can be debilitating. Now, a new study suggests that by merely living close to busy roads, the chances of developing tinnitus are much higher. 

Living in an urban area does come with its fair share of benefits. However, on the flip side, it means more exposure to traffic noise that could potentially take a toll on one’s hearing.

The study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found a positive link between road traffic noises and the onset of tinnitus after analyzing over 3.5 million Danish residents.

Researchers found that the more exposed one is to traffic noise from their homes, the higher the person’s risk of developing tinnitus. They attribute these outcomes to increased stress and sleep disturbances that follow living near busy roads.

Interestingly, this is the first study to look at and establish a link between the effect of residential traffic noise exposure on tinnitus and other hearing outcomes.

Road traffic noise could be common for many to get used to, but some can be seriously affected even after undergoing treatment. It’s estimated that the prevalence of tinnitus ranges between 5 percent to 43 percent globally.

Evidence suggests that noise from busy roads is associated with several health problems, some of which include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and stroke. Meanwhile, as of 2021, the team had found a link between traffic noise and dementia. This has driven increasing concern about the impact traffic noise has on the health and well-being of the population at large.

For this reason, the researchers set out to explore the link between exposure to traffic noise measured from houses closer to the roads and those whose sides faced away from the roadside and the risk of developing tinnitus.

For the study, the researchers from the Department of Clinical Research and the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) culled data from the Danish national register, encompassing over 3.5 million Danish residents who were followed up for 14 years.

After gauging the traffic noise from all faces of residential buildings in Denmark, the study authors found that for every ten decibels more noise in an individual’s home, the risk of developing tinnitus rose by about six percent. They also found up to 40,000 residents diagnosed with tinnitus.

Exposure to noise at levels of 85 dB for more than eight hours is generally regarded as the threshold at which noise is capable of damaging the hearing—or even worse, causing permanent deafness or tinnitus. While the study authors note that noise from traffic is not likely to reach this threshold, it can, however, act as a potential stressor.

Stress contributes largely to the onset, maintenance, and worsening of tinnitus, which according to the researchers, may explain why traffic noise was linked to tinnitus.

Moreover, they also observed higher associations in those whose apartments faced away from the busy roads, especially in the quiet angles of a building where people would likely place their bedrooms.

According to the researchers, some possible solutions one can start implementing now to lessen noise in their homes starts with sleeping in a room that does not face the road, fixing soundproof windows, or searching for options that could enhance your sleep. But then again some might be financially tied or not be opportune to make such changes.

Overall, their findings add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that transportation noise can affect hearing and is therefore a potential rising health risk that must be considered in urban planning and political decisions. 

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