Acoustic shock

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Acoustic shock is the symptoms a person may experience after hearing an unexpected, loud sound. The loud sound, called an acoustic incident, can be caused by feedback oscillation, fax tones, or signalling tones. Telemarketers and call centre employees are thought to be most at risk.[1]

Reported symptoms[edit]

During the exposure, most people will experience discomfort and pain. After the exposure, some people might report shock, nausea and anxiety or depression.[2] Headache, fatigue, hypersensitivity to loud noise and tinnitus may continue for days, weeks or indefinitely.[3] It has not been established how such unrelated symptoms might be caused by an acoustic exposure, or whether such symptoms are even a direct result of exposure.[4] There is literature that suggests acoustic shock is not a pathological entity but predominately psychogenic.[5]

Physiological mechanisms[edit]

It has been suggested that the tensor tympani is involved in causing the disorder. In particular, the tonic tensor tympani syndrome.[6][7] In France, researchers report the study of a case of acoustic shock in a scientific publication. They suggest that these symptoms may result from a loop involving the middle ear muscles, peripheral inflammatory processes, activation and sensitization of the trigeminal nerve, the autonomic nervous system, and central feedbacks.[8]


There are many methods of attempting to reduce the risk of AS. Several devices attempt to remove potentially harmful sound signals by digital signal processing. None has yet been shown to be fully effective. Devices which solely limit noise levels to about 85 dB have been shown in field trials to be ineffective (data from these trials has not been released into the public domain). Limiting background noise and office stress may also reduce the chance of an Acoustic Shock. Proper use of the headset and preventing mobile phones from being used in call centers reduces the chance of feedback.[3]

Legal action[edit]

84 BT employees suffering from depression, headaches and other health problems, are demanding compensation for injury sustained from acoustic shock at work. BT has already paid £90,000 to one worker that suffered from tinnitus.[9]

In March 2018, a musician won a claim for damages against the British Royal Opera House for acoustic shock caused by excessive noise during orchestral rehearsals.[10]


  1. ^ ITU-T Recommendation p.10 (12/98): Vocabulary of terms on telephone transmission quality and telephone sets, Geneva, 1998.
  2. ^ Acoustic Shock Archived August 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b Appendix 7 – Acoustic shock
  4. ^ "HSE - Noise: Acoustic shock". Retrieved 2012-07-10. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Acoustic Shock Controversies".]
  6. ^ Patuzzi R, Milhinch J, Doyle J. Acute aural trauma in users of telephone headsets and handsets. Neuro-Otological Society of Australia Annual Conference, Melbourne, 2000 (personal communication).
  7. ^ Westcott M. Acoustic shock injury (ASI). Acta Otolaryngol Suppl. 2006 Dec;(556):54-8. Review.
  8. ^ Londero A, Charpentier N, Ponsot D, Fournier P, Pezard L and Noreña AJ (2017) A Case of Acoustic Shock with Post-trauma Trigeminal-Autonomic Activation. Front. Neurol. 8:420. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2017.00420
  9. ^ "Legal action over 'acoustic shock'". BBC News. 12 February 2001.[needs update]
  10. ^ Coleman, Clive (28 March 2018). "Musician wins landmark ruling over ruined hearing". BBC News.

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