More than just a ringing in the ears.
Bondi, NSW, Australia: Image via Wikipedia
Around the world, people report hearing a noise like a distant idling engine that appears to have no source. This incessant low-frequency noise is hard to detect on microphones. This phenomenon has been in existence for decades. One person will hear it, but the next will not, and earplugs have no effect on the hearer. There have been multiple explanations proposed: tinnitus, spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (the ear generating its own noise) and colliding ocean waves producing infrasonic humming; but none of these are completely applicable.
In the south of England, the sound of a distant engine is heard by many residents over the age of 50. Reportedly, one “hummer” is deaf! A man is said to have committed suicide in October 1996 to free himself from the drone. The Hum sounds stronger when the hearer is in a steel enclosure of more than 1/8 inch thickness.
Over 800 letters were submitted, in 1977, to a Bristol newspaper which had asked “Have you heard the Hum?”; the letters mention accompanying symptoms of sleep loss, light headedness, shortness of breath, headaches, grumpiness, unease and an inability to concentrate whilst reading. Reports of the hum come from Leeds, Suffolk, Leicester, Cheshire, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, London, Shropshire, Wiltshire and Strathclyde. Dr. David Baguley, head of audiology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge believes that the hearing of some has simply become oversensitive. He says that we each have an internal volume control that helps us amplify sounds during threats or concentration but it is always “on” in the hummers.
An unusual case was investigated, in 1993, by a member of the Norfolk Tinnitus Society in Norwich; it was the case of a man who, during the spring and summer, slept on a park bench or in the Market Square. These were the only two places he could avoid hearing a persistent low frequency noise.
Down Under Hums
In the Bondi area of Sydney, Australia, annoyed and frustrated locals demanded the city find the source of their hum. They say it is like listening to a constant running truck engine and it is driving them crazy. Music and fans do not drown it out. Possible sources, like the local sewerage plant, were ruled out, so Waverly Council went to the Environmental Protection Agency for assistance. An offer of an acoustic study of the Bondi Basin was all that was offered.