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What is Vibroacoustic Disease?

Imagine if sound waves could damage you down to your very cells or if certain frequencies could cause pain, depression, and even stroke.

It may sound like a science fiction movie in which the villain has created the ultimate weapon, or a futuristic dystopian government has developed a terrible new way to control its population. It’s not. It’s a real-world condition that people every day deal with, and it’s called Vibroacoustic Disease.

The facts of vibroacoustic disease

Vibroacoustic disease is a relatively new discovery. While the first inklings of something happening came from Professor Eugenia Andreeva-Galanina around 1956, it wasn’t until later in the twentieth century that more research into just how serious it could be started happening. The first autopsy of a VAD patient was performed in 1987, uncovering just how much of an impact the disease can have on the human body and more continues to be uncovered as those most at risk are studied.

So, what is vibroacoustic disease? When the human body is exposed to high-intensity, low-frequency sounds, it can have staggering and cumulative effects down to our very cells. Vibroacoustic disease (VAD) is caused by exposure to large pressure amplitude and low frequency noise generally defined as > or = 90 dBSPL and < or = 500 Hz.

Those most at risk of VAD include professionals such as aircraft technicians, pilots, machinists, and even restaurant staff and DJs. This risk may also extend to those in the area, as was the case on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, which makes it even more concerning.

Signs of VAD

VAD can cause a variety of neurological, muscular, and cardiovascular symptoms in addition to hearing loss and problems with the vestibular system. Experts have now classified signs and symptoms of VAD into three stages from least to most severe. They include:

  1. Stage I (mild) – these include repeated infections of the respiratory tract and some behavioral and mood symptoms along with these.
  2. Stage II (moderate) – some hearing loss, pericardial thickening, more significant behavioral and mood changes including depression and aggressiveness, neurovascular disorders.
  3. Stage III (severe) – stroke, malignancy/lesions, myocardial infarction, epilepsy, and severe behavioral and mood symptoms leading to suicide.

In some cases, especially those involving military personnel, these signs and symptoms can be mistakenly diagnosed as PTSD.

Managing and Preventing VAD

There is no doubt that more research into VAD and how best to prevent it is needed; however, experts stress there are steps we can take now to minimize risk. Education on the damaging effects of high-intensity, low-frequency sounds is first and foremost. Whenever possible, avoiding these sound waves that are so difficult to protect against. Secondly, when avoiding these waves entirely is not possible, taking steps to manage and monitor health is key. A healthy lifestyle to help minimize the effect, regular checkups to monitor cardiovascular health, annual hearing evaluations to detect hearing loss, and taking active steps to cultivate mental health can all go a long way.

If you believe you may be at risk of VAD, contact your physician or hearing healthcare provider to learn more.

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