BRUSSELS, March 31 (UPI) -- Exposure to excessive noise takes a heavy toll on Western Europeans, second only to air pollution as an environmental cause of ill health, researchers say.
The finding comes from the world's first comprehensive report on the health effects of noise, published this week by the World Health Organization and the European Commission's Joint Research Center, NewScientist.com reported Thursday.
The report estimated Western European inhabitants -- an estimated adult population in 2001 of 340 million -- lose as much as 1.6 million years of healthy living per year.
The toll from air pollution is estimated at 4.5 million years of healthy living lost per year, the report said.
"No other environmental hazard comes anywhere near these two," co-author Rok Ho Kim, who coordinates the WHO's noise program, said.
The most dramatic effects are in heart disease, the report said, because noise has been shown to raise blood pressure and increase concentrations of stress hormones and fatty materials even when people are asleep.
These can accumulate over time to block blood vessels and trigger a heart attack, the report said.
Although heart disease is the most serious cause of death from noise, the largest single impact on health is through sleep deprivation, the report said, which costs Europeans an estimated 903,000 years of healthy living annually.