Throughout the 20th and now into the 21st century hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have reported a low frequency pulsating noise which has become known as “The Hum”.
Many have described it as sounding like a heavy diesel engine idling in the distance, but, to others, it rises through the frequency range to a higher pitched buzz.
Since the 1950s people across the globe have claimed to be plagued by an annoying, low-frequency humming, throbbing or rumbling sound. It is mostly heard indoors at rural and suburban locations. The noise can get louder during the night, though it can also cease entirely upon leaving specific locations.
Approximately 2 percent of people in hum-prone locations are able to hear the noise. The “hum” is a phenomenon that has been reported across the world from Vancouver in Canada to Europe, Asia and finally to Auckland in New Zealand. Humming hot spots include Bristol, England; Taos in New Mexico, North America; Bondi in Sydney, Australia; Largs, Scotland; and Windsor in Ontario Canada.
The cause for the humming remains largely a mystery but there are a number of theories as to what could be causing it, including:
- exposure to industrial equipment;
- high pressure gas lines;
- wireless communication devices;
- electrical power lines;
- electromagnetic radiation; and
- the mating calls of Midshipman fish reverberating off ship hulls and buildings.
Many of those affected with the noise have sought medical help to see if the noise could be as a result of tinnitus or Ménière’s disease, but mostly nothing has been found. Medical experts have suggested that it may be some form of tinnitus – a common ringing in the years that most people have experienced on occasions. Another theory is that the hum maybe caused by trembling of the tensor tympani muscle in the ear.
Dr David Baguley, head of audiology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, estimates that environmental factors such a fridge, industrial fan or nearby factory may be the source of at least a third of cases. His own theory – based on years of research – is that many sufferers’ hearing has become over-sensitive concentrating the mind on certain frequencies of sound which it perceives as a threat. Wilder theories suggest far more insidious causes, including secret military experiments, submarine communication and alien activity.
Colateral effects of the Hum are Insomnia, Pounding Head, Difficulty concentrating , Dizziness, Headache , Burning Skin, Tension, Pins and Needles , Muscle Spasms, Heart Palpitations, Nose Bleeds, Eye Strain , Ear Pressure, Nausea and Fatigue, Panic and Desperation.
Ear plugs or hearing protectors do not help and in fact only seem to exaggerate the problem, suggesting that the source possibly makes the whole body vibrate at a frequency of around 10 MHz upwards, which is lower than the average person can hear. High quality microphones cannot record the sound and more often than not other people in the immediate vicinity can hear nothing.
The fact that the hum will suddenly start and affect a very localised area then, after an indeterminate period, suddenly stop, bears out the fact that it has nothing to do with the individual’s hearing and must emanate from an external source.
In 2010 Time Magazine listed The Hum as the 7th most annoying sound in the world, while Livescience featured it in their ‘Top 10 Unexplained Phenomenon”. Though it may sound like a minor inconvenience, many people claim that The Hum has had a massive negative impact on their quality of life by causing headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, joint pain, nosebleeds and sleep loss. For some individuals this has been enough to drive them to suicide.
I wish I could bring this article to a conclusion and give you a rational explanation for “the Hum” but I can’t. The theories range from motorway noise to the spiritualist lady who earnestly told me it was the moans of the tormented souls in hell.
As you can see the possible explanations are very open and if you have any ideas you would like to share please do so through the comments section below.
In the News:
The mystery of the Taos hum. Acoustical Society of America.
Taoseños’ Ears Still Humming – Albuquerque Journal.
The Kokomo Hum investigation – Acentech Project No. 615411.
Expert says hum is not a sound – Kokomo Tribune.
‘The Hum’ followup: CalPortland installs second silencer – West Seattle Blog.
Seattle ‘Hum’ May Be Due To Midshipman Fish That Produce Sound For Mating – The Huffington Post.
West Seattle’s now-famous ‘Hum’: Apparently NOT a fish’s fault”. West Seattle Blog.
Wellington and Auckland Hums:
Wellington hum disappears – 3 News.
Mystery humming sound captured – Sydney Morning Herald.
Mysterious humming driving Aucklanders crazy – New Zealand Herald.
Auckland North Shore Hum T.J. Moir personal pages.
Bristol Hums and other UK hums:
Who, What, Why: Why is ‘the hum’ such a mystery? – BBC News.
In search of the thing that goes hum in the night – The Independent.
Have you heard ‘the Hum’? – BBC News.
I’m plagued by a ‘hum’ that no one else hears – Mail Online.
Humdinger – The Guardian.
What’s that terrible noise? – The Independent.
Expert has the answer to Woodland village hums -The Advertiser Series.
Low frequency noise and annoyance – Noise & Health.
The Hum: An anomalous sound heard around the world. Journal of Scientific Exploration.
Low Frequency Noise FAQ – University of Salford.
The effects of low frequency noise on people—A review – Journal of Sound and Vibration.
Hum and otoacoustic emissions may arise out of the same mechanisms – .Journal of Scientific Exploration.
The Phenomenon of Low Frequency Hums – Norfolk Tinnitus Society.
Can some people hear the jet stream? – New Scientist.
Tinnitus – American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery.
Spooky! The Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena – LiveScience.
The World Hum Map and Database – World Hum Database and Mapping Project.