Studies on the Connection Between Noise and Illness

An interesting interview with the dermatologists Dr. Hans-Friedrich Doering and Dr. Hans-Werner Tuettenberg in Troisdorf (near Cologne, Germany) was published on International Noise Awareness Day 1999, and a translation was printed in our Fall 1999 newsletter. The second article featuring these two specialists was published for INAD 2000:

Hay-fever, asthma, migraine, itchy tetters, inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose, bronchia and stomach, urticaria (nettle rash) and conjunctivitis - the two medical doctors in Troisdorf, H.-F. Doering and H.-W. Tuettenberg, who have run a dermatology and allergy clinic there for 25 years, observe with great concern the increase in those illnesses, especially in children. Because of that, they decided to do a broad inquiry by questioning their patients which went on throughout the entire last year. Of the nearly 1,000 people asked, 611 patients responded anonymously. The results of this study, which now appear in the professional journal Der Deutsche Dermatologe (The German Dermatologist), are surprising even to the medical doctors.

Eighty percent of those questioned mention exposure to harmful substances in general as the main cause of their illnesses. Sources of noise, like that from road and railway traffic is stated by 44.6 % of the patients to be a burden on their health and particularly nocturnal aircraft noise is identified by 46.9 % of the afflicted. In areas under the flight paths of the Cologne-Bonn airport that percentage reached 55.8 % (in Cologne-Porz), 60.7 % (in Neunkirchen-Seelscheid) or 64.9 % (in Lomar) respectively.

"Since we hadn't expected to get these particular reactions to the burden from nocturnal aircraft noise by the people afflicted with allergies, we discussed the possible connections between nocturnal aircraft noise and the deterioration of the allergic ailments with some of the patients." A simple explanation was found: People who suffer from itches or breathing difficulties already have a light sleep. If they are then awakened several times a night by rising and fading aircraft noise, they begin to scratch or feel an onset of breathing difficulties. In addition to that, patients who are sensitive to house dust are not supposed to sleep with the windows closed, as they would increasingly react with eczema, inflammation of mucous membranes, restlessness and fatigue.

Doering's and Tuettenberg's observations, which are also confirmed by the former director of the Immunobiology Institute of Cologne, Gerhard Uhlenbruck, are identical with the studies done with children in Munich after the Munich airport was moved from Riem to Erdinger Moos: when the noise disappears, its effects do not vanish simultaneously. Still two years after the airport transfer the children suffered from the effects of the noise. The Bavarian study states: "Noise that is not under one's own control and occurs as loud, unpredictable single events is being interpreted as wake-up and alarm signal by the organism."

Similar conclusions are drawn by Alexander Samel at the Institute for Medicine in Air and Space Travelling in Cologne-Porz, where a comprehensive 3-year study of the effects of aircraft noise on human health is presently under way. "Sleep disturbances are particularly grave and something unlikely to get adapted to. They lead to fatigue during the day. Other possible consequences are impaired performance, reduced productivity and increased proneness to accidents," it says in one of the reports issued by the German Centre for Air and Space Travel (DLR). Aside from the medically demonstrable effects, Samel also considers the quality of life in these scientific observations: residents on properties adjacent to airports close their windows more often, make less use of their balconies, patios and gardens and more seldom get visitors.

Beyond that, the two Troisdorf dermatologists, Doering and Tuettenberg, are questioning the over-all economic costs. Their conclusion is that the extremely low-cost charter flights and the daily supply of exotic fruits that has become a matter of course, are meanwhile being paid for by half the population by way of heart and circulation disorders, neuroses, allergies and immune deficiencies.

-Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger, # 76, Thursday, March 30, 2000, translated by Hans Schmid

Right to Quiet Society Newsletter, Spring 2002

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