Environmental noise is ubiquitous in the daily life of all industrialized nations. Noise is probably the most widespread single stressor in working conditions. There are strict guidelines setting upper limits for industrial workers, which are under regular control and observance. However, acoustic pollution and the internal sound level in a hospital are completely neglected. Noise annoys and irritates patients and personnel, particularly in intensive care units (ICUs) where an increasing number of technical devices produce noise and are monitored by acoustic alarms. Usually no effort is made to reduce noise in the ICU. As many patients are under continuous sedation or are clinically paralyzed, and are often in very critical life-threatening conditions, attention is concentrated on stabilizing vital functions.

Noise has many effects which have been investigated in a large number of laboratory studies (Abel 1990; KjeNberg 1.990). There have been many studies of noise-induced hearing loss, but this problem only occurs in a noise environment exceeding 85 to 90 dB(A), which is not the case in an ICU. Non-auditory effects of noise, such as cardiovascular changes, irritation, and altered sleeping patterns, have been examined in industrial working populations and in residential populations living in areas exposed to noise (near an airport or highway). These effects may prevent out-patients from resting. Noise can also create psychological problems for hospital personnel, which reduce performance levels and affect the behavior of the working team.

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