Most of us know that loud noises can be damaging to our hearing. In fact, sounds that are louder than 85 dB, such as a lawn mower, a gunshot blast, or fireworks, can cause permanent hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to high noise levels also can damage the hearing system.

James H. O’Keefe, M.D.

But new research suggests that these noises also might be linked to an increase in the risk for heart disease. A study published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology shows that noise pollution may have a significant impact on heart health.

Researchers in Germany and Denmark reviewed years of data and looked at former studies to determine if there is a link between noise and heart disease. They found people and animals who were exposed to frequent, loud noise had higher rates of heart failure, irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.

The researchers believe that noise pollution causes a surge in stress hormones, which appear to have harmful effects on the arteries in the heart and the rest of the body. While this new research cannot prove that noise causes heart disease, it does provide convincing evidence that stress, especially when it is generated by noise, is linked to health consequences.

The researchers are calling for noise pollution to be considered a risk factor for heart disease, similar to high cholesterol or obesity, especially if you have other pre-existing risk factors for heart disease. And, the researchers further stated that anything above 60 decibels can increase the risk for heart disease.

Most of us probably wouldn’t consider 60 decibels that loud. Conversational speech and the noise made by an air conditioning unit both clock in at about 60 decibels. The toilet flushing registers 75 decibels, a lawn mower 90, a table saw 105, and a balloon popping 125.

Sounds most of us take for granted or ignore could be damaging, but more research is needed to confirm the possible danger to the heart that loud noises pose, as well as the level that might put us at increased risk. In the meantime, consider this new research another reason to protect your hearing, and by default, your heart.

Here are some suggestions for hearing protection from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

• If you know you are going to be in a loud environment, place over-the-counter earplugs into the ear canal so that they totally block the canal. Earplugs can be purchased at your local drugstore and come in different shapes and sizes. They can also be custom made by an audiologist taking an impression of the ear. Earplugs can reduce noise by 15 to 30 decibels (dB) depending on how they are made and fit.

• Use earmuffs that fit completely over both ears. You can find them at sporting goods and discount stories, or online. They must fit tightly so that sound is blocked from entering the ears. Like earplugs, earmuffs can reduce noise 15 to 30 dB depending on how they are made and fit.

• Use earplugs and earmuffs together to achieve even greater sound reduction. Use of earplugs and earmuffs is recommended if you think noise exposure will be particularly high.

• Consider custom earplugs and musicians’ plugs if you are frequently exposed to loud noises. If you are an avid hunter or a musician, talk to an audiologist about specialized hearing protection devices.

• Do not listen to loud sounds for too long. If you don’t have hearing protection, move away from the loud sound and give your ears a break.

• Lower the loudness of the sound if possible. Keep personal listening devices set to no more than half volume.

While there are no studies that show a reduction in the risk of heart disease if you wear earmuffs or earplugs, they definitely protect your hearing, and can’t hurt your heart.