Tinnitus is a complex condition with various contributing factors. Traffic noise, specifically chronic exposure to loud noise, can be one of those factors. According to a study conducted by the University of Southern Denmark, there is a correlation between traffic noise and the risk of developing tinnitus. They point to a vicious cycle involving stress reactions and sleep disturbance as a potential cause.
The nationwide study included data on 3.5 million Danish residents who were 30 and older between 2000 and 2017. Over that time, 40,692 were diagnosed with tinnitus. When the researchers calculated the likely traffic and noise levels at the quietest facade of their residences during that period, they found those living near louder roads were more likely to be diagnosed with tinnitus than those who lived in quieter areas. People’s risk rose 6 percent with every 10-decibel increase in road traffic noise compared with controls.
The study also found that people living near busy roads are more likely to have increased stress levels and poor sleep schedules. The constant exposure to loud traffic noise can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. Stress is a well-known trigger for tinnitus or can exacerbate existing tinnitus. When the body is under stress, it can release stress hormones that affect the auditory system, making tinnitus more noticeable and bothersome. The lack of quality sleep can make tinnitus worse or more noticeable. Additionally, when you’re trying to fall asleep or are in a quiet environment, the absence of external sounds can make tinnitus seem more pronounced, which can be particularly bothersome at night when traffic noise tends to decrease. When we are under stress and sleep poorly, we may be at a higher risk of developing tinnitus. Exposure to such conditions for extended periods may increase your risk of developing tinnitus.
In summary, traffic noise can contribute to tinnitus through both direct damage to the auditory system (noise-induced hearing loss) and indirect mechanisms such as stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. It’s essential to protect your ears from excessive noise exposure and take steps to manage stress and improve sleep quality if you are exposed to high levels of traffic noise to reduce the risk of tinnitus or alleviate its symptoms.