List of Symptoms
This section gives a detailed framework to assist with understanding the range and the pattern of symptoms being described by residents, workers and visitors.
People are affected by infrasound and low frequency noise (ILFN) and vibration from a wide variety of sources in both residential and occupational settings. Sources of ILFN reported to the Waubra Foundation include wind turbines, coal seam gas field compressors, coal mining activities, gas fired power stations. Some acousticians also report being affected whilst conducting attended measurements.
Residents can get started with a more simple summary
If you’re new to the topic or looking for a less technical List of Symptoms, please get started with the Information for Residents section.
What is the pattern of symptoms?
For those affected, there is a clear and consistent correlation between exposure to the environmental noise and the development of characteristic symptoms. Not everyone is affected, although over time, more and more people report developing sleep disturbance or other symptoms.
The onset of symptoms is variable, even within families where individuals have identical exposures. Many farming or rural families have one or more members ‘off farm’ for long periods of time, especially during the day, for education or employment activities, meaning there will generally be very different exposures during the day.
Individual differences in susceptibility also play a role. A small subgroup of people with a history of migraine, inner ear pathology or motion sickness describe being affected from the first few days of exposure, with nausea and vertigo in the case of wind turbine noise, but the vast majority of affected residents are not affected in this way.
For most residents, the changes appear incremental over months or years. Many people describe not realising how they are being affected until either the source of the noise ceases for a period of time (rare) or they go away and start to notice the symptoms dissipate or vanish completely. Often people describe this happening repetitively, before they are sure their symptoms are related to the environmental noise.
For those rural residents who never get away, they often attribute it to ‘getting older’, ‘menopause’ or some other factor, until they start talking with neighbours and others with similar experiences, and realise that there may be other reasons for their symptoms.
Turbine hosts get symptoms too
David Mortimer, a wind turbine host from South Australia, has publicly described on a number of occasions how he just thought he was ‘getting older’, until he heard another resident from Cape Bridgewater speaking about his own symptoms, which were identical to those David had experienced for some years.
David describes being affected by the turbines much earlier than his wife. Once David made that connection between the symptoms and exposure to operating wind turbines, David and his wife then tried periods of time away from their home and kept track of what their symptoms and sleep patterns were like. They found their symptoms correlated directly with exposure to operating wind turbines.
The symptoms disappear when the Mortimers are nowhere near industrial wind turbines, but David and his wife have now become so sensitised that they can detect the unwelcome pulsating sensations particularly at night, out to 17 km from the nearest operating wind turbine.
This distressing perception of inaudible sound energy out to distances well beyond 10km has also been reported by residents who are sensitised both in Australia and internationally in the UK, France and the USA, particularly in areas with quiet background noise.
What is the most common symptom?
Recurrent sleep disturbance or waking up tired is the most commonly reported problem.
What are the acute symptoms?
Vestibular dysfunction/disorders or “wind turbine syndrome” symptoms
- Sleep disturbance
- Headache, including migraines
- Ear pressure (often described as painful)
- Balance problems / dizziness
- Visual blurring
- Problems with concentration and memory
- Panic episodes
- Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
Acute Sympathetic Nervous System ‘fight flight’ Symptoms & Problems
- Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
- Arrythmias, which residents might describe as palpitations
- Hypertension (high blood pressure) which has been reported by some residents to be considered unstable by their treating doctor or cardiologist, and to vary in response to exposure to operating wind turbines.
Related rare but serious conditions
The following three conditions are rare, but important to mention because they are potentially life threatening, and have been identified in Australia, Canada and Germany to correlate with wind turbine operation.
- Tako Tsubo heart attack – these are not the classic heart attack, involving acute blockage of a major artery to the heart muscle, rather they are caused by adrenaline surges which cause constriction of the little blood vessels called capillaries directly supplying the heart muscle
- Acute hypertensive crisis (Australia, Ontario) – sudden onset of dangerously high blood pressure, often accompanied by severe headache, nausea, sensation of their heart ‘leaping out of their chest’. The usual cause for these symptoms and this diagnosis caused by adrenaline surges would be an underlying adrenal tumour, called a phaeochromocytoma. However in the residents reporting this problem, that diagnosis of an adrenal tumour was specifically excluded by subsequent medical investigations
- Crescendo angina – i.e. worsening severe cardiac ischemic chest pain which was previously successfully relieved with anginine spray, when not exposed to operating wind turbines. The best clinical description of this came from a couple in Germany highly sensitised to ILFN after 18 years of exposure, who were stuck in a vehicle on an autobahn near large industrial wind turbines. The same phenomena has been reported in Australia by a resident subsequently advised verbally by his cardiologist never to go back home to Waterloo
Other characteristic symptoms (some have a chronic exposure component but manifest with acute symptoms)
- Episodes of sensation of body vibration (specifically lips, chest cavity and abdomen)
- Episodes of intense anger (reported in workers as well as residents, also noted to a much lesser extent with short exposure to infrasound and low frequency noise (ILFN) in Professor Leventhall’s experimental research in an office occupational setting in 1997)
- Bleeding from ear drum following intense and painful sensation of ear pressure, in the absence of trauma or previous symptoms
- Deteriorating hearing (confirmed sometimes with audiological assessment)
- Menstrual irregularities in women marked by heavy bleeding and noticeable hormonal cycle changes
- Significantly decreased ability to “multi task” impacting noticeably on resident’s ability to perform usual tasks
- Noticeable difficulties with mental arithmetic, when previously able to calculate easily
- Hyperacusis – extreme sensitivity to “normal” sounds which in some circumstances has persisted for over 6 years after removal from the exposure to ILFN
- Disorders of thyroid metabolism which stabilize when away from ILFN
- Disorders of diabetes control, which stabilize when away from ILFN
- Disorders of blood pressure control, which stabilise when not exposed to ILFN
- Migraines and severe headaches described by sufferers as “like a vice around the head”
- Episodes of perceiving that their heart beat is trying to “get in sync” with the blade pass of the turbines, which some people describe as being like an arrythmia but others do not. It is universally described as unpleasant
Sleep disturbance & its consequences
Sleep disturbance itself has been attributed by residents to the following, which they report does NOT happen when they are not exposed to operating wind turbines, and correlates with wind direction and weather conditions on the nights when they are affected in this way:
- Audible noise of the turbines (especially if their home is not well insulated, or the windows are open, and they live close to the turbines)
- Waking at night in the characteristic ‘panicked’ state (many residents living far from turbines report this symptom despite not being able to see or hear the turbines when they awake)
- Violent and disturbing dreams in adults and children, which can happen repeatedly over the same night. In the case of children, they can be extremely distressed and difficult to console
- Increased need to urinate, sometimes as often as every 10 minutes for a period of up to one hour (sometimes this affects numerous people in the house at once)
- Bedwetting in children reported by parents to have been previously dry at night for some years
Known clinical consequences of repetitive sleep disturbance/deprivation
The adverse health consequences of insufficient sleep have been well known to clinical medicine for decades, and are increasingly being reflected in the peer reviewed published literature. They include the following:
- Cardiovascular disorders (including hypertension) ischemic heart disease, angina
- Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, and increased suicide risk
- Impaired immunity, leading to increased acute and chronic infections, and in the longer term malignancies (cancers)
- Fatigue-related work impairment and accidents. This is a serious issue for rural communities and farms, where workplace injury is already a significant problem
- Fatigue driving heavy vehicles and school buses (a safety concern for the entire rural community)
- Fatigue in workers such as health care workers (Australia), air traffic controllers (USA), well known to lead to impaired judgment which will detrimentally impact on the safety of the wider community, in addition to personal health problems for those individuals
Chronic stress (Psychological & Physiological) & its consequences
Illnesses either caused or exacerbated by chronic stress have been well documented in published peer reviewed research literature for many years, and are being reported by these residents. Some overlap with those listed above for sleep disturbance, which is itself a source of stress. They include the following:
- Cardiovascular disorders (including hypertension), ischemic heart disease, angina, and transient ischemic attacks (precursors of strokes)
- Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, often severe (suicidal ideation)
- Impaired immunity, (elevated cortisol being one component) leading to increased acute and chronic infections, delayed healing, and in the longer term to malignancies (cancers)
- Disrupted human fertility and hormonal cycles
- Exacerbation of pre-existing inflammatory disorders, including arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, SLE (Lupus), or the development of new inflammatory conditions which coincide with exposure to ILFN & vibration
Is there a link between ILFN and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Repetitive physiological stress events as well as a once off major acutely stressful event like a fire or a flood or a major accident have both been linked with subsequent development of PTSD.
There are residents living near ILFN sources who have reported that symptoms of their pre-existing PTSD (resulting from Vietnam War experiences or childhood sexual abuse) are triggered with exposure to operating wind turbines. Other residents with a history of PTSD have reported feeling the symptoms of a panic attack coming on when driving past operating turbines (these individuals were unaware of any possible connection between ILFN and anxiety symptoms, and were strong supporters of wind turbines at the time).
Helicopter noise, and blast noise and vibration from mining have also been reported by other clinicians as triggers for recurrence of PTSD symptoms in their patients. All these are also known sources of ILFN & vibration, as well as sources of sudden impulsive noise.
There are also reports of people who develop PTSD after exposure to operating wind turbines, having no previous psychiatric problems. One former resident at a wind development has ongoing problems with residual PTSD seven years after they moved away, having been bought out and silenced by the wind developer.
Stress and dental disease
Stress is an acknowledged long term contributor to dental disease via a number of mechanisms including impaired immunity and a dry mouth from repetitive physiological stress episodes. Increased severity of dental infections has certainly been reported by some residents living near turbines who report this as one of a number of health problems.
The conditions below have been reported from Germany in residents exposed to operating wind turbines for over 10 years.
- Pericardial thickening
- Mitral and tricuspid valve thickening
- Characteristic mouth ulcers described in Vibroacoustic disease
The cardiac tissue pathology is identical to that described in workers and others studied by the Portuguese researchers who first described vibroacoustic disease (VAD), now being diagnosed in others including most recently in Taiwanese aviation workers.
The occurrence of symptoms correlating with ILFN exposure
All of the above problems listed have the characteristic pattern of improving partially or completely when the turbines are off, or when the residents are away from their homes or source of other ILFN.
Some residents also report subsequently being affected by other sources of ILFN, such as when flying in some aeroplanes, or when exposed to LFN from heating and cooling (air conditioning) compressors, or travelling in some motor vehicles. This is not unknown to acousticians, and is evidence of that individual’s sensitisation to ILFN, described by Professor Leventhall in 2003. The only known solutions are either removal of the source of the ILFN, or relocating away from it.
What happens with ongoing exposure? Do people “get used to it”?
What is being consistently observed is that the symptoms progress, and the mental and physical health of many sick people deteriorates with ongoing exposure to ILFN, if they cannot move away.
This pattern of deterioration was well described in the scientific literature relating to chronic stress by Bruce McEwen in 1998, in an important review article in the New England Journal of Medicine. (McEwen, Bruce “Protective and Damaging Effects of Stress Mediators” New England Journal of Medicine 1998, 338 171-179)
There is no clinical or experimental evidence that people “get used to” the sound energy in low frequencies, especially once they are “sensitised”.