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‘Silent Trauma’: Hearing Loss, Ear Damage Linger Long After Marathon Bombing

Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. (Jeremy Pavia/AP)

Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. (Jeremy Pavia/AP)

After two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in April of last year, the initial focus was on the lives and the multiple limbs lost in the attack. But ear damage was the most common physical injury. A new report finds that many victims are still suffering from hearing loss and ear damage related to the blasts.

A team of Boston researchers report on the lingering impact of those ear and hearing problems in a new study published in the journal Otology and Neurotology.

The report’s conclusion

Blast-related otologic injuries constitute a major source of morbidity after the Boston Marathon bombings. Orthopedic and soft tissue trauma was sustained by many, but far more incurred ear-related damage. This represents much of the silent trauma that requires continued evaluation and treatment…

More specifically:

Among the 94 study participants, researchers found that 90 percent of the hospitalized patients sustained “tympanic membrane perforation,” basically a ruptured ear drum, following the bombings. From the study:

Proximity to blast and significant nonotologic injury were positive predictors of perforation. Spontaneous healing occurred in 38% of patients, and tympanoplasty success was 86%…Hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and difficulty hearing in noise remain persistent and, in some cases, progressive complaints for patients. Otologic-specific quality of life was impaired in this population.

Notably, it took many blast victims some time to realize the extent of their hearing problems, researchers report. Alicia M. Quesnel, an otologic surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, a senior author of the study told The Washington Post:

“I saw patients who were traumatized by what had just happened, and there was a lot going on emotionally,” Quesnel said. “We were seeing people coming into the clinic in the days and weeks after the bombing. They realized that they can’t hear very well.”

“A bomb going off — that loudness results in some temporary deafening. It may have taken people a few days or weeks to realize ‘I can’t hear from one ear or both ears.'”

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