Enormous Ignorance About Vibroacoustic Disease within the Medical Profession

Loud noise damaged my whole body

By Melissa Jackson
BBC News Online health staff

Jonathan now has VAD under control

Jonathan Arnot had wanted to be an engineer since he was a boy, but little did he realise his dream job would cause him a health nightmare.

He now has a debilitating medical condition that can never be cured – only managed.

He had never heard of Vibroacoustic Disorder (VAD) until his symptoms were correctly diagnosed, long after he began to feel ill.

He now has the illness under control, but believes there is still enormous ignorance about VAD within the medical profession, which means people are not getting the correct diagnosis or treatment they need.

Jonathan had always enjoyed good health, up until two years ago, when at the age of 39, he began to experience disturbing symptoms which were completely beyond his control.

“I started to get numb patches on the skin,” he said.

This was the start of a disorder that had been creeping up on him for the last 10 years.

He also started to get “strange muscle twitches” and became less tolerant of loud noise.

As the illness took hold, he suffered symptoms similar to those experienced by MS sufferers, including blurred vision, deafness, blinding headaches, loss of bladder control, impotency and irritable bowel syndrome.

Most people would struggle with just one of these symptoms, but Jonathan had to face a regular avalanche.

VAD is caused by prolonged exposure to low-frequency noise.

Working as an engineer on roll-on/roll-off ferries for 10 years, almost exclusively in the engine room, exposed him to loud, low-frequency noise, despite wearing ear protectors.

He calculated that over a decade, he was exposed to more than 38,000 hours of noise.

He was eventually forced to leave his job when his illness became overwhelming.

He believes he was not the only engineer who had VAD.

“Out of six engine-room staff who worked with me, five had identical symptoms,” he said.

Diagnosis difficulties

Getting his condition diagnosed and treated was not easy.

He said: “I initially went to see a neurologist who tested me for MS and copper poisoning.

“I sought help from UK doctors both privately and through the NHS, but found very little interest and help was forthcoming.

“No-one could tell me what was wrong.

He started doing his own research and collected together medical information which he passed on to the neurologist, who eventually diagnosed VAD.

His research took him to Portugal, where it is a recognised condition among military personnel and employees of the textile industry.

The condition usually manifests itself after about 10 years of exposure to loud low-frequency noise.

Stress factors

Osteopath and senior lecturer at London’s University of Westminster Leon Chaitow understands and treats the condition.

He explained what happens to the body after prolonged exposure to loud low-frequency sounds, although stresses that not everyone will develop VAD.

He said: “If we are repeatedly exposed to stress, we adapt to it, but at a certain point, adaptation breaks down and that’s when you get major symptoms occurring.

“When you get stressed you breathe too fast and lose too much carbon dioxide, which makes the blood too alkaline and your PH goes up.

“When that happens the muscles constrict, which can lead to irritable bowel and bladder symptoms.

“When the blood becomes alkaline, less oxygen is released in tissues, muscles and the brain.”

The bad news is the damage is irreversible. But there is some good news.

Mr Chaitow said: “You can’t undo vibrational damage, but you can manage it.

Complementary remedies

This is something Jonathan has come to understand at first hand.

He said: “I’m going to have treatment for the rest of my life.”

He tried drugs – Diazepam and anti-inflammatory drugs, which took away the muscle cramps.

But he prefers complementary remedies, including acupuncture, homeopathy and diving to keep his condition under control.

He dives once a week to a depth of 33 feet to inhale pure oxygen at a pressure of one bar.

He said: “When I come out, my eyesight is pin sharp.”

Controlling his breathing is key to keeping his condition under control.

He also keeps an oxygen cylinder beside his bed, should he experience breathing problems in the night.

He is now a self-employed central heating installer, which means he can work around his condition.

Breathing therapy

He knows the warning signs that signal that an attack is imminent.

He said: “The first warning signs are gritty eyes and blurred vision.

“In a full-scale attack the blood vessels at the back of my neck shut down and I get a total loss of concentration, accompanied by a blinding headache.

“When I have an attack I breathe deeply and properly.

“My attacks now are very shallow, whereas they used to last for days.

Mr Chaitow is an advocate of breathing therapy and the use of anti-oxidant treatments, including vitamin C and E and co-enzyme Q supplements.

He recognises the problems of diagnosing chronic disorders such as VAD.

He said: “If someone has multiple sclerosis, it can take six or seven years to get a diagnosis.”

Jonathan is less charitable.

He said: “I think VAD is being misdiagnosed as malingering or chronic fatigue syndrome.

“What is needed is quiet education, not a big fanfare.”

He says that VAD is not recognised as an occupational disease and sufferers will find very little assistance from the state for either treatment or rehabilitation.

“I will keep pushing to get it recognised as a preventable condition.”

He has written to his MEP and his local MP to try to get it recognised as an occupational disease.

If his determination is as strong as his will power to triumph over his adversity, he has every possibility of succeeding.

Source: BBC, Health Online 23 July, 2004