Intended for healthcare professionals


Noise pollution in hospitals

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 19 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4808

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Engaging with patients on the hospital soundscape

  1. Andreas Xyrichis, senior lecturer1,
  2. John Wynne, reader in sound arts2,
  3. Jamie Mackrill, freelance researcher3,
  4. Anne Marie Rafferty, professor of nursing policy1,
  5. Angus Carlyle, professor of sound and landscape2
  1. 1Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery, and Palliative Care, King’s College London, UK
  2. 2London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, UK
  3. 3Warwick, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A Xyrichis andreas.xyrichis{at}

Excessive noise is damaging for both patients and staff

Noise in hospitals is a common grievance among patients, families, and staff.1 In the US, “quietness of hospital environment” is among the lowest scoring items on patient surveys.2 In the UK, 40% of hospital patients are bothered by noise at night, a consistent finding of the NHS Inpatient Survey.1 Hospital noise is a steadily worsening problem, with levels regularly exceeding international recommendations.34 Noise levels over 100 dB have been measured in intensive care units,4 the equivalent of loud music through headphones and the point beyond which damage to hair cells in the ear can occur.

Effects on patients and staff

Excessive noise in hospitals reduces the intelligibility of speech and impairs communication, causing annoyance, irritation, and fatigue5 and reducing the quality and safety of healthcare. It has been implicated in the development of intensive care psychosis, hospitalisation induced stress, increased pain sensitivity, high blood pressure, and poor mental health.567

Hospital noise disrupts sleep; machine sounds …

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