Areas of intensive care as loud as highways
Patients in intensive care units are being subjected to sound levels more than 20 dB higher than the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended levels for such areas, according to a European study carried out in partnership between the University of Gothenburg and the University of Borås in Sweden. Their results were published in the study 'The sound environment in an ICU patient room - A content analysis of sound levels and patient experiences' which was published in the journal of Intensive and Critical Care Nursing.
These results are part of a preliminary study which is part of a larger project in which the researchers will study in more depth and from a longer perspective how the physical environment affects seriously ill patients.
High levels of environmental noise can be detrimental to our health; in fact, noise can be the cause of a wide range of health effects, including: sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, damage to work and school performance, and hearing impairment including tinnitus. Meanwhile, in the western countries in the WHO European Region traffic-related noise is attributed with more than 1 million healthy years of life lost annually to ill health, disability or early death. In Europe environmental noise leads to a disease burden that is second only to that from air pollution.
In the researchers' study, they registered the sound levels in the intensive care unit at Södra Älvsborg Hospital, one of four hospital groups within the region of Västra Götaland, Sweden, over a 24-hour period where 13 seriously ill patients were being cared for. They discovered that the sound levels around the seriously ill patients were on average between 51 and 55 dB, a noise level comparable with a busy road. While they noted that for 70 to 90 % of the time the sound level was above 55 dB, they also registered a number of short sound bursts that were above 100 dB. This is as loud as a jet taking off or a jackhammer.
Following this, the patients were interviewed about their experiences of the surrounding sounds and they recalled both positive and negative experiences. The positive experiences included, for example, the sound of the staff talking quietly between themselves or providing information on ongoing treatment.
'Sounds perceived as frightening were uncontrollable sounds from, for example, alarms and sounds from seriously ill fellow patients, and treatments and examinations. One patient also described how the sounds around him had entered into his dreams and hallucinations,' says Lotta Johansson, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, who led the study.
The study acknowledges that the sound levels found were slightly lower than those measured by previous studies, but still significantly higher than the 30 dB recommended by the WHO for patient rooms in hospitals.
'The interesting thing is that what the patients considered most disturbing was unknown and uncontrollable sounds rather than the generally high sound level. This shows that we must take further measures to create healing care environments with better conditions for sleep and recovery for seriously ill patients,' explains Lotta Johansson.
For more information, please visit:
ENNAH - the European Network on Noise and Health:
Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg:
Data Source Provider: University of Gothenburg; Journal of Intensive and Critical Care Nursing
Document Reference: Johansson, L. et al. 'The sound environment in an ICU patient room - A content analysis of sound levels and patient experiences', Intensive and Critical Care Nursing, October 2012, 28(5), 269-279.
Subject Index: Environmental Protection; Healthcare delivery/services; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Safety; Scientific Research