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Symptoms — Clinical Framework

The following list of symptoms is not exhaustive, but gives a framework for understanding the pathology being reported. This then makes it easier to understand why the particular symptoms are being reported, and why they progress in severity over time with ongoing exposure to operating wind turbines or other sources of infrasound and low frequency noise (ILFN).

Much of this information was provided to the second Australian Federal Senate inquiry, in Waubra Foundation CEO Sarah Laurie’s response to a question on notice to provide a list of symptoms to the Chair of the Committee.

Readers may also find it useful to look at the raw data from Dr Nina Pierpont’s study and Dr Robert McMurtry’s proposed case definition to help categorise and assess adverse health effects in the environs of industrial wind turbines.

Understanding the clinical framework

It is common in clinical medicine to pay particular attention to the time course of symptoms:

  • which symptoms are acute and occur suddenly, and which are chronic?
  • what happens over time — do the symptoms get worse or get better?

These are the sorts of questions which medical practitioners experienced in making diagnoses and inferring causal relationships are used to investigating with the routine medical skills of taking a detailed “clinical history”. Experienced and senior clinicians are well aware that a detailed and careful history is essential for accurate diagnosis, particularly where there are no easy or readily available diagnostic investigations, such as in remote and rural areas.

Many of the “vestibular disorder” symptoms (identical to many of the listed Wind Turbine Syndrome symptoms) experienced by people living and working near wind turbines and other sources of ILFN are familiar to some Ear Nose and Throat clinicians and some neurologists who specialise in diagnosing and treating disorders of balance and the vestibular system. Some of the symptoms especially those related to vibration may also be known to some occupational physicians who are familiar with the effects of ILFN and vibration in an occupational setting. Otherwise, this is not an area of medicine familiar to most other practitioners.

However, almost all health practitioners are well aware that sleep deprivation and chronic stress are detrimental to long term physical and mental health. When health practitioners understand that these two well established clinical problems (sleep deprivation and stress) are driving the longer term pathology, the reasons for the deterioration of the health of residents with ongoing exposure to ILFN becomes clear, regardless of the way the symptoms are expressed in each individual.

Acute Symptoms

Vestibular dysfunction symptoms

Also see Dr Owen Black MD’s affadavit

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Headache, including migraines
  • Tinnitus
  • Ear pressure (often described as painful)
  • Balance problems, dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Visual blurring
  • Irritability
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Panic episodes
  • Tachycardia (fast heart rate)

Acute Physiological Stress

  • 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

Rare but serious conditions, presenting with acute symptoms

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, by people exposed to infrasound and low frequency noise, from wind turbines and from mining.

  • Tako Tsubo heart attack (adrenaline surge related) in the absence of the usual acute emotional stressor (e.g. death of close relation) but closely correlating with exposure to operating wind turbines (2 sites in Australia), or to ILFN and vibration from coal mining in the upper Hunter in NSW, and also reported in Ontario with exposure to industrial wind turbines
  • Acute Hypertensive Crisis (Australia, Ontario) in absence of adrenal tumour (usual cause)
  • Crescendo angina i.e. worsening severe cardiac chest pain which is usually relieved with anginine spray and indicates the heart is not getting sufficient oxygenated blood (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; but the same has been reported in Australia by a resident subsequently advised verbally by his cardiologist never to go back to his home in Waterloo, South Australia)

Other acute symptoms (some associated with chronic exposure)

  • Episodes of sensation of body vibration (specifically lips, chest and abdominal cavities)
  • Episodes of intense anger (reported in workers as well as residents, also noted to a much lesser extent with short exposure to ILFN in experimental research in 1997 by Professor Leventhall in an office occupational setting)
  • 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

Chronic Symptoms

Sleep disturbance

  • 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 to cool it at night, and they live close to the turbines)
    • Waking at night in the characteristic “panicked” state (many living further away who report this symptom say they cannot see or hear the turbines at the time they wake up)
    • 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 and repetitively distressed
    • 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)

Known clinical consequences of prolonged sleep disturbance/deprivation

  • Cardiovascular disorders, including hypertension, ischemic heart disease, angina
  • Diabetes
  • Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • 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 – thus a concern for the safety of the wider rural community as well
  • 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)

Stress

Residents living near wind developments and other sources of ILFN regularly complain of feeling “stressed”, and describe problems with “a short fuse” or having limited capacity to cope with stressful situations which has never been a problem for them previously. The regular reports of “fight flight” response reactions for no good reason are indicative of this problem, and occur in people with no history of “panic attacks” previously, nor do they occur when residents are not exposed to the ILFN.

Repetitive physiological stress as well as acute major stressful event have both been linked with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are residents who have reported that symptoms of their pre existing PTSD (e.g. resulting from Vietnam War experiences or childhood sexual abuse) is triggered with exposure to operating wind turbines. Helicopter noise, and blast noise and vibration from mining has also been reported by other clinicians as triggers for PTSD symptoms. All these are known sources of ILFN & vibration.

There are also reports of people who develop PTSD after exposure to operating wind turbines, with ongoing PTSD problems seven years after they moved away (bought out and silenced by the wind developer). This is a research area needing further investigation, and the connections between PTSD, vestibular disorders and ILFN exposure from other sources are currently being investigated in the USA under Professor Carey Balaban, an acknowledged world expert in this field, who also reviewed Dr Pierpont’s research.

Consequences of stress

Other illnesses either caused by or exacerbated by chronic stress have been well documented in peer reviewed published 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. Problems include the following:

  • Cardiovascular disorders, including hypertension, ischemic heart disease, angina, and transient ischemic attacks (precursors of strokes)
  • Diabetes
  • Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, often severe
  • Impaired immunity, (elevated cortisol being one component) leading to increased acute and chronic infections, delayed healing, and in the longer term malignancies (cancers). Chronic sinusitis is commonly reported by some residents with longer term exposure, either as a new condition or a worsening of pre-existing sinusitis
  • 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 coincides with exposure to ILFN & vibration
  • Dental disease (dry mouth and impaired immunity)

Tissue damage

The items 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 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 Taiwanese aviation workers. Of particular concern was the cardiac valvular thickening and other pathology also reported in a young boy, exposed to relatively high doses of ILFN in utero and early childhood.

Fetal abnormalities

Finally, there are growing concerns about the potential for fetal abnormalities with increasing exposures to larger wind turbines and therefore more ILFN and vibration. These fetal abnormalities are being reported by some farmers in their stock (cattle, sheep) living near larger wind turbines at rates which are noticeably increased for them since wind turbines commenced operating. The farmers who disclosed this keep accurate records of their stock numbers and problems, and were clear in their reports. The aetiological agent is not clear, although ILFN and vibration are certainly one possibility needing exclusion. Proximity to a substation which has recently been connected to a wind development is another site where such problems have been reported.

The exposure dose and health impacts of ground borne vibration

There is research evidence indicating concerns about the impact of vibration on embryos from other sources at relatively high doses. Frequent and repetitive perceptions of vibration inside their homes, especially when lying down is being reported by some of the residents, living near wind turbines and living near coal mines in the Upper Hunter. Some acousticians are privately raising concerns that established limits for whole body vibration may be being exceeded in these residents reporting symptoms and perceptions of vibration, especially if they are occurring when the residents are lying down in bed overnight.

The detection of vibration from wind turbines is also reported by institutions with seismic arrays, which are part of a worldwide network to detect nuclear explosions. The characteristic acoustic signature of wind turbine sound energy is being detected significant distances away from such institutions in Scotland and Germany. There is research done in New Zealand by Dr Bob Thorne and colleagues measuring seismic energy from larger 3MW V90 VESTAS wind turbines, reported to be disturbing residents.

The long term impact of chronic exposure to such low “dose” of vibration is unknown. It does appear that where a resident is reporting the perception of vibration regularly, the resident’s health appears to be negatively impacted more rapidly, even when compared to others living in the same home. Measurement of the dose of vibration is clearly important, and yet is rarely if ever performed.

Final comments

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.

Some residents affected by ILFN from one source, then report subsequently being adversely affected by other sources of ILFN, such as when flying, or when exposed to LFN from heating and cooling (air conditioning) compressors, and they also report symptoms when travelling in some motor vehicles. This makes sense scientifically, as they have become “sensitised” to LFN. This phenomena of “sensitisation” was called “conditioning” in the 1985 study by Kelley et al and was also noted in Professor Leventhall’s 2003 literature review.

What is being observed is that many people reporting adverse health effects or new symptoms, who do not or cannot move away, deteriorate with ongoing cumulative exposure.