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In March 2013, my piece, Noise Kills, ran in BuzzFeed.
It started with the tale of Jason DiEmilio, who suffered from such excruciating ear pain and hyperacusis from noise exposure that he overdosed on pills and drowned himself in his Harlem bathtub.
It ended with the tale of Dietrich Hectors, who had the same injury, and who hanged himself in the woods near his hometown of Antwerp, Belgium.
Sandwiched in between: my husband and me.
Like our blood brothers Jason and Dietrich, we were told by multiple specialists that there was no way noise could possibly cause such physical pain. They were wrong.
Our efforts for recognition and research stem from the incontrovertible fact that noise kills. The scientific research community is just now realizing how dangerous noise is; the medical establishment has not yet caught up. Doctors are out of their depth when it comes to noise injury.
Many people know that noise exposure causes garden-variety hearing loss over time. But oddly, and perhaps counterintuitively, noise can do something far worse: lead to long-lasting pain and sound sensitivity that aren't easily fixable and that worsen easily with even ordinary noise exposure.
The four main symptoms of noise injury:
Additional symptoms include diplacusis, autophony, pressure in the scalp, clicking sounds upon swallowing, sore and aching ears, numbness and tingling, and sensations of pulling, trickling, tingling or tugging within the ear.
There appears to be no limit to the severity of symptoms and no end to the development of new symptoms. Ears don't heal well. Once injured, they worsen easily. Months of improvement can be wiped out with a single episode of noise exposure.
Noise-induced pain appears to be a new branch in the field of auditory science and is possibly a form of traumatic brain injury. It appears to have a double cause: underlying susceptibility combined with the trigger factor of noise exposure. This exposure includes both intensity and duration. Noise damage is cumulative.
For those who are susceptible, defining the line between safe and dangerous levels of sound is impossible. Noise is a physical force, and can be every bit as damaging as a bullet or a knife. Exposure to loud or prolonged noise that normal ears can easily withstand -- alarms, sirens, horns, power tools, concerts -- can cause weeks or months of pain. Adding to the insult, noise injury is entirely preventable. Unfortunately, few people know that such an injury even exists.
The medical establishment is more likely to hurt than to help. Hearing tests often come out normal, so people are routinely told they are fine. Noise injury is often misdiagnosed as an ear infection or a jaw problem, if not anxiety, stress or phonophobia. Sufferers often traipse from doctor to doctor, searching in vain for help. In many cases, doctors -- with a combination of bad advice, loud medical tests and guesswork about treatment -- make sufferers permanently worse.
It's hard to explain how serious noise injuries are. As Jason DiEmilio wrote: "It is virtually impossible to articulate the magnitude of the problem."
Our most important advice: Don't make it worse. It is imperative to avoid or protect oneself from noise that causes pain or discomfort.
The harsh reality is that, once people suffer from a noise injury, they remain at sustained risk for further worsening -- even if symptoms subside or abate.
Like sunburn or food poisoning, noise injury comes with a delayed reaction, so it's hard to judge, in the moment, how much you will suffer later. So many people unwittingly expose their ears to noise they cannot withstand -- and it doesn't even need to be that much noise -- and consequently suffer enormous pain and disability.
The conventional wisdom advises not to "overprotect" one's ears. This is wrongheaded advice, especially when ordinary, everyday noise causes pain. Just a moment of noise exposure above one's tolerance can wipe out years of healing. We have seen this happen time and time again.
In mild cases, noise injury is life-altering. In severe cases, it is life-threatening.
Please visit our message board, dedicated to the memory of Jason DiEmilio and Dietrich Hectors. Noise killed them both.
Please support hyperacusisresearch.org, a non-profit dedicated to stopping noise-induced pain.