Noise is a prominent feature of the environment including noise from transport, industry and neighbours. Exposure to transport noise disturbs sleep in the laboratory, but not generally in field studies where adaptation occurs. Noise interferes in complex task performance, modifies social behaviour and causes annoyance. Studies of occupational and environmental noise exposure suggest an association with hypertension, whereas community studies show only weak relationships between noise and cardiovascular disease. Aircraft and road traffic noise exposure are associated with psychological symptoms but not with clinically defined psychiatric disorder. In both industrial studies and community studies, noise exposure is related to raised catecholamine secretion. In children, chronic aircraft noise exposure impairs reading comprehension and long-term memory and may be associated with raised blood pressure. Further research is needed examining coping strategies and the possible health consequences of adaptation to noise.