Noise sensitivity: Symptoms, health status, illness behavior and co-occurring environmental sensitivities

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Abstract

Epidemiological evidence on the symptomatic profile, health status and illness behavior of people with subjective sensitivity to noise is still scarce. Also, it is unknown to what extent noise sensitivity co-occurs with other environmental sensitivities such as multi-chemical sensitivity and sensitivity to electromagnetic fields (EMF). A cross-sectional study performed in the Netherlands, combining self-administered questionnaires and electronic medical records of non-specific symptoms (NSS) registered by general practitioners (GP) allowed us to explore this further. The study sample consisted of 5806 participants, drawn from 21 general practices. Among participants, 722 (12.5%) responded “absolutely agree” to the statement “I am sensitive to noise”, comprising the high noise-sensitive (HNS) group. Compared to the rest of the sample, people in the HNS group reported significantly higher scores on number and duration of self-reported NSS, increased psychological distress, decreased sleep quality and general health, more negative symptom perceptions and higher prevalence of healthcare contacts, GP-registered NSS and prescriptions for antidepressants and benzodiazepines. These results remained robust after adjustment for demographic, residential and lifestyle characteristics, objectively measured nocturnal noise exposure from road-traffic and GP-registered morbidity. Co-occurrence rates with other environmental sensitivities varied between 9% and 50%. Individuals with self-declared sensitivity to noise are characterized by high prevalence of multiple NSS, poorer health status and increased illness behavior independently of noise exposure levels. Findings support the notion that different types of environmental sensitivities partly overlap.

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