Unwanted noise makes people sick. Ellie Hughes reports
"Noise has the same psychological effect as being punched on the nose - it's a threat that invokes the primitive fight or flight response." Dr Laurence McKenna, a consultant psychologist in audiological medicine, is sure that the impact of noise on our well-being is profound.

This might explain why neighbourhood noise has become such a serious problem. Although there are no official figures, the pressure group Noise Network suggests that about five people a year are killed as a result of noise. This includes people being murdered after complaining to neighbours, people who have been driven to commit suicide and, most commonly, "victims", people who have finally flipped and killed the "perpetrators".

Although deaths are obviously rare, fights between neighbours over noise are very common. One reason, according to Noise Network's Val Gibson, is the inaction of many local environmental health officers, who are not trained to understand the psychological effects of noise.

Gibson speaks from experience. Six years ago, she and her husband were forced to move house to escape their next door neighbour's relentlessly booming stereo. "We got no help from the local authority," she says. "In fact, we were made to feel that we were the problem."

The stress made her constantly tearful and worn out, and eventually forced her to leave her job. An ex-clubber, she no longer enjoys music with a heavy bass like her neighbour played. The experience led her to set up the anti-noise campaign, and within a week she had discovered a huge number of fellow sufferers.

One thing seems certain, the problem is getting worse. Noise is now the most common reason for complaints received by environmental health officers, and is the subject of a two-part programme on Radio Five Live, which starts tonight.

Dr McKenna believes that an answer must be found. "You are miserable because of the noise. Then, when it's not occurring, you're equally miserable because you are waiting for it - you don't know if you can relax. Why should noise victims be turned into quasi-psychiatric patients? If someone was punched on the nose, we wouldn't tell them to get used to it. We wouldn't advise victims of air pollution to get some psychology. It needs to be addressed properly."

Noises Off, a Rewind production for Radio 5 Live, begins tonight at 8.35pm.