Noise in the ICU

Intensive Care Med. 1993;19(6):343-6. doi: 10.1007/BF01694709.


Objective: The growing number of technical devices in ICUs makes noise exposure a major stressor. The purpose of this study was to assess noise levels during routine operation in our ICU.

Design: Our ICU is an open ward with four rooms, constructed in the 1960s. During the study period, 4 patients were in the controlled room and were treated by 4 nurses during the day and by 2 at night. A-weighted sound pressure levels (SPL) were measured continuously for 2 days and nights. Also measured were the alarms of various appliances. For gross overall evaluation it is customary to state the Leq, i.e. the energy-averaged level during measurement. The annoyance caused by noise depends more on rare events of high intensity. Therefore, the distribution of SPL values (Ln) over time was also analysed.

Results: SPL was roughly the same during the day and at night, with Leq between 60-65 dB(A) and peaks up to 96 dB(A). Most alarms reach an SPL of 60-70 dB(A), but some exceed 80 dB(A). During teaching rounds Leq exceeds 65 dB(A).

Conclusion: During the day and at night SPL always surpasses the permissible noise exposure for 24 h of 45 db(A) recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Alarms cause the most irritating noise. Hospital management should pay attention to internal noise, and SPL should be measured routinely.

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Methods
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation
  • Noise*
  • Time Factors