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Vibroacoustic disease

Category: Illness or disabilities



Introduction and description

Vibroacoustic disease is a medical condition manifested in those who have had long-term exposure to large pressure amplitude, low frequency noise (≤ 500 Hz), in other words high intensity, short distance but long duration, a combination that can lead to hallucinations and illness, sometimes severe illness.

The use of the term  ‘low frequency’ has tended to mask the fact that this range of sounds includes infrasound – and all over the site under the different source of infrasound, we have examples of what accidental but short term exposure to low frequency sound can do.

The disease has generally been thought of as an occupational disease, as the people who have suffered from the disease in the past include farm workers who spend a great deal of time on tractors, heavy machinery drivers, factory workers, workers in the aerospace industry, construction workers, long distance lorry drivers, airline pilots and crew, helicopter pilots, steel workers and even pop groups!  One of the causes is subwoofer speakers, for example, and the group U2 used to use these extensively.

But this tends to mask the fact that people whose houses are very near wind turbines may be suffering from this disease, as many wind turbines produce infrasound at quite high intensity, but being infrasound it cannot be heard.  The people are ill, know they are ill, have watched animals decline and in some cases die near the turbines, but cannot pin down the source as it cannot be heard.


In 1956, Professor Eugenia Andreeva-Galanina developed a classification of hand-arm vibration-induced pathology. This has been further refined and used in trying to describe the stages of the disease and its severity.  Since this early work in the 1950s, research has been ongoing and the group found that noisy environments produced far more widespread systemic effects than they initially suspected.   Vibroaccoustic disease is rarely mentioned these days and yet it is extremely serious and very widespread.


The sound is shaking the body to pieces, as such damage is all over the body.  There is general cell damage [lesions], depression, anger and aggression, ADHD like symptoms, and stress.  The effects on the body appear to affect the respiratory tract giving asthma like symptoms or bronchitis like symptoms.  Eventually the person can get heart failure:

The clinical progression is insidious, and lesions are found in many systems throughout the body. Some of the findings, such as extracellular matrix changes, appear to be specific to this disease. Others, such as cognitive impairment, seem to be common in different types of stress-induced pathology.
We analyzed the files of 140 patients with VAD, paying close attention to the chronology of the clinical findings, the registry of eventual and on-the-job accidents, and the evaluation of disabilities.  We have classified VAD in function of the time it took for 50% of the population [sic] to acquire the relevant sign or symptom.

 - Stage I-  mild signs - behavioral and mood associated with repeated infections of the respiratory tract, e.g., bronchitis

 - Stage II, moderate signs - depression and aggressiveness, pericardial thickening and other extracellular matrix changes, light to moderate hearing impairment, and discrete neurovascular disorders

 - Stage III, severe signs - myocardial infarction, stroke, malignancy, epilepsy, and suicide.

Mood and behavioral abnormalities are the most common early findings related to vibroacoustic disease (VAD). Brain MRI discloses small multifocal lesions in about 50% of subjects with more than 10 yr of occupational exposure to large pressure amplitude (> or = 90 dB SPL) and low frequency (< or = 500 Hz) (LPALF) noise.

In other words VAD causes brain damage, and could be responsible for some cases of autism, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia and Alzheimer’s, even manic depression and schizophrenia.  It is known to cause epilepsy, deafness and tinnitus:

The 60 male Caucasians diagnosed with VAD were neurologically evaluated in extreme detail in order to systematically identify the most common and significant neurological disturbances in VAD.
This population demonstrates cognitive changes (identified through psychological and neurophysiological studies (ERP P300)),
 - vertigo and
 - auditory changes,
 - visual impairment,
 - epilepsy, and
 - cerebrovascular diseases.
Neurological examination reveals pathological signs and reflexes, most commonly the palmo-mental reflex.
A vascular pattern underlying the multifocal hyperintensities in T2 MR imaging, with predominant involvement of the small arteries of the white matter, is probably the visible organic substratum of the neurological picture. However, other pathophyisological mechanisms are involved in epileptic symptomatology.  PMID:  10189162


As can be seen above MRI scans can be used to detect lesions, there is also a test using the palmomental reflex (PMR).  The most common neurological finding in patients with VAD is the palmomental reflex (PMR) and is caused by  a loss of the cortical control over the brainstem structures.

The palmomental reflex (PMR) is a primitive reflex consisting of a twitch of the chin muscle elicited by stroking a specific part of the palm. It is present in infancy and disappears as the brain matures during childhood but may reappear due to processes that disrupt the normal cortical inhibitory pathways. Therefore, it is an example of a frontal release sign.

The thenar eminence is stroked briskly with a thin stick, from proximal (edge of wrist) to distal (base of thumb) using moderate pressure. A positive response is considered if there is a single visible twitch of the ipsilateral mentalis muscle (chin muscle on the same side as the hand tested).

Where VAD is suspected but no twitch is present, EMG measurement may evidence contraction of the chin muscles, without visible PMR, triggered by the stimulation of the thenar eminence.


The infrasound section can be referenced to find the sources of infrasound at a more general level.  Vibroaccoustic disease, however, is only caused by a subset of these, because only a subset produce high intensity long duration exposure at close quarters.  The following are the main sources:

  •   Wind turbines - If you work, live or are based near a wind turbine the infrasound is classified as high intensity, further away it is lower intensity
  •  Heavy machinery and vehicles - Numerous types of heavy machinery and equipment produce infrasound and low frequency sound, at very high intensity and close to the workers, for example:

·         Tractors
·         Air conditioning equipment
·         Electric fans
·         Airplanes
·         Cars , lorries and trains
·         Manufacturing plant and many other types of equipment

  •  ‘Sick’ Buildings - Wind acting on high rise office building produces turbulence, turbulence can produce infrasound.  It is also possible for infrasound to be present within a building generated from electric fans, air conditioning systems, or simply via air flowing down long corridors unbroken by any furniture
  • Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF): is a type of plastic which is used in all sorts of applications from pipes to insulation to building structures.  PVDF exhibits piezoelectricity properties such that when a current is applied through it, it produces mechanical vibrations and as a consequence sound – and more specifically infrasound. PVDF built over telluric currents can thus produce infrasound
  • Waterfalls - Measurements made in the vicinity of Niagara Falls show that exceptional infrasonic pressure levels can occur in the regions of large waterfalls (>100Pa at a range of about 500 meters). Indications are that the dominant frequency from a waterfall is inversely proportional to the waterfall height and that the sound pressure level depends upon the hydrodynamic power of the waterfall.
  • Helicopters - Helicopter blades produce low frequency sound [infrasound]. The University of Fairbanks in Alaska, for example, have been able to measure infrasound from a helicopter passing over the DOE array, it has also been recorded.  Helicopter pilots are thus at risk.
  • Sonic weapons - Sonic weapons (USW)  are weapons that use sound to injure, incapacitate, or kill an opponent. They can be both infrasound based and ultrasound based.  Those based on ultrasound kill a person like a microwave might by resonating the water in their cells until it boils.  Infrasound weapons principally affect the brain and resonate the organs in the brain disrupting the entire biological system. 
    The U.S. DOD has actually demonstrated phased arrays of infrasonic emitters. The weapon consists of a device that generates sound at about 7 Hz. The output from the device is routed (by pipes) to an array of open emitters. At this frequency, armor and concrete walls and other common building materials allow sound waves to pass through, providing little defense.
  •  Minesweepers - Minesweepers use infrasound to detect mines and there have been a number of reports that suggest that the use of infrasound affects the crew.
  • Large scale subwoofer speakers - A subwoofer is a loudspeaker capable of reproducing low pitched audio frequencies.  The typical frequency range for a subwoofer is about 20–200 Hz for consumer products, but there are many notable exceptions which produce sound in the infrasound range.  They were originally designed to augment woofers that only covered audible and higher frequency ranges, but have taken on a life of their own, because the very deep bass notes they produce are "loved by concert goers and home audio system listeners alike".  In other words the principle people likely to be affected by these speakers are every frequent users of home audio equipment and pop groups.  The group U2 and Bono are said to be heavy users of this equipment


Once the person is damaged, palliative care can only be prescribed.  The best treatment is prevention.  There are a great number of infrasound detectors on the market – all reasonably priced considering this is your health that is at risk. There is even an InfraSound Detector App that can be used via mobile devices to detect infrasound (infrasonic) acoustic signals below the user-defined frequency (up to 30 Hz by default).

References and further reading

  • Aviat Space Environ Med. 1999 Mar;70(3 Pt 2):A32-9. - The clinical stages of vibroacoustic disease - Castelo Branco NA1.  PMID:  10189154
  • Aviat Space Environ Med. 1999 Mar;70(3 Pt 2):A1-6. - The vibroacoustic disease--an emerging pathology. Castelo Branco NA1, Rodriguez E.  PMID:  10189150
  • Aviat Space Environ Med. 1999 Mar;70(3 Pt 2):A91-5. - Neurological aspects of vibroacoustic disease  Martinho Pimenta AJ1, Castelo Branco NA.
  • The palmo-mental reflex in vibroacoustic disease - Martinho Pimenta AJ1, Castelo Branco MS, Castelo Branco NA.  PMID:  10189164


The sculpture shown right is by TOKUJIN YOSKIOKA and is a 'Crystal Painting' made from Swan Lake Music Vibrations


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