Bombs at Boston Marathon expected to take a heavy toll on victims’ hearing

David Kirkwood
April 24, 2013

BOSTON—Everyone knows about the tragic loss of life caused by the two bombs that exploded last week near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. The grievous injuries to scores of spectators, which cost many of them their legs, have also been widely reported.

However, it is almost certain that the explosions and the shock waves and noise they produced inflicted invisible damage on the auditory systems of hundreds of the spectators and runners who were in the area of the bomb blasts.

In an article in the April 17 Boston Globe, Alicia Quesnel, MD, an otologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, said that at least a dozen patients close to the explosions had come to her hospital suffering from hearing loss. She warned that many more people, even some who were more than 100 feet away from where the bombs were placed, may also be at risk of ear damage.

Mass Eye and Ear has posted the following advice on its web site:

“People who were near or in the area of the blast [at] the Boston Marathon should seek medical attention if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bloody or other drainage from the ear(s)
  • Hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Facial drooping or weakness

“These symptoms could indicate a small hole in the eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation) or other types of injuries that would warrant further evaluation, including a hearing test to determine the type/extent of injuries and determine appropriate treatment.”

Susan McDonald, MA, a senior audiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said that a number of patients affected by the bombs had been treated there for eardrum punctures and nerve damage. She expects that over time additional people with milder hearing problems resulting from the bombs will come to Tufts as outpatients.

In her interview with the Globe, Quesnel said, “Some of our patients may have more severe nerve-related hearing loss that won’t get better.” These people, she said, may require the use of hearing aids. She added that since injuries can take weeks or months to heal, the extent of permanent damage will not be known for some time.



The Starkey Hearing Foundation announced that in response to the Boston Marathon tragedy, it is offering free assistance to those who may have suffered hearing loss or tinnitus as a result of the explosions. The foundation said it would work with local partners in the greater Boston area to make sure people receive the hearing testing and care they need.

For assistance, people may contact Starkey Hearing Foundation, 866/354-3254, [email protected].

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