BACKGROUND: Although the postanaesthesia care unit (PACU) can be noisy, the effect of noise on patients recovering from anaesthesia is unknown. We studied the sources and intensity of noise in the PACU and assessed its effect on patients' comfort. METHODS: We measured noise in a five-bed PACU with a sound level meter. Noise levels were obtained using an A-weighted setting (dBA) and peak sound using a linear scale (dBL). Leq (average noise level at 5-s intervals), maximum Leq (LeqMax), minimum Leq (LeqMin) and noise peaks (Lpc) were calculated. During recording, an independent observer noted the origin of sounds from alarms and noise above 65 dB intensity (P65dB). Two hours after leaving the PACU, patients were asked about their experience and to rank their complaints on a visual analogue scale (VAS) using unstructured and structured questionnaires. RESULTS: We made 20,187 measurements over 1678 min. The mean Leq, LeqMax and LeqMin were 67.1 (SD 5.0), 75.7 (4.8) and 48.6 (4.1) dBA respectively. The mean Lpc was 126.2 (4.3) dBL. Five per cent of the noise was at a level above 65 dBA. Staff conversation caused 56% of sounds greater than 65 dB and other noise sources (alarm, telephone, nursing care) were each less than 10% of these sounds. Five patients reported disturbance from noise. There was no significant difference in Leq measured for patients who found the PACU noisy and those who did not [59.5 (3.1) and 59.4 (2.4) dBA respectively]. Stepwise multiple logistic regression indicated that only pain was associated with discomfort. CONCLUSIONS: Even though sound in the PACU exceeded the internationally recommended intensity (40 dBA), it did not cause discomfort. Conversation was the most common cause of excess noise.
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