Acoustic shock is a recently recognised clinical entity: following an abrupt, intense and unanticipated acoustic stimulus, usually delivered by a telephone handset or headset, some individuals report a symptom cluster that includes otalgia, altered hearing, aural fullness, imbalance, tinnitus, dislike or even fear of loud noises, and anxiety and/or depression. Symptoms start shortly after the triggering acoustic incident and can be short-lived or can last for a considerable time. If persistent, the condition can lead to significant disability. Proposed mechanisms include involvement of the tensor tympani muscle, hyperexcitability of central auditory pathways, and a precursive state of raised anxiety or arousal. A formal treatment programme has not yet been proposed, but the potential utility of modern therapeutic techniques for tinnitus and hyperacusis are considered. Given the large number of UK residents working in telephone call centres, this condition is of considerable clinical importance.
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