The Hum

don't want to hear it

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When I’m lying in bed at night I hear a background hum, or maybe it’s a vibration.

It runs for a short while and then stops and quickly starts up again for another short burst, and then it continues for a longer period before starting the sequence again. It sounds like a motor starting up somewhere and stopping before starting up again.

My husband can’t hear it, even with his hearing aids in. Neither can my neighbour. I began to wonder if it was me. Is there something going on inside my head or whooshing around my arteries that I interpret as a hum?

At first I dismissed this as the central heating and adjusted the controls to turn it off at night. The hum continued. I’ve tried turning off all power to the house, but the hum maintains its rhythm.

It’s more noticeable in the bedroom and the bathroom, where there is less competing noise to distract me, but if I concentrate I can hear it downstairs as well, and even, faintly, outside the house.

It could be something mechanical, or maybe a vibration running along the houses. It could be something atmospheric. There are overhead power lines across the drove from our terraced cottages, and our fibre-optic broadband is delivered by overhead lines. Or maybe one of our neighbours is running a generator in their loft to power a cannabis farm. . . (only joking, guys).

Last week, we were down in an eastern suburb of London, staying in a ground floor maisonette, and I’ve realised for the first time that I can hear it here as well. It is less insistent – perhaps because we are only on the ground floor and not upstairs – and it competes at night with a timer socket that chunters away under the bed. But it’s definitely there.

Which seemed to back up the possibility that it was something in my head.

But the hum east of London is slightly different from the Fenland hum, which (I’m pleased to say) seems to dismiss that theory. Near London, the hum is continuous. (Unless it has fewer breaks and I’m missing them. I thought I’d heard it pause once or twice. . .) But, hey. . . I’ve better things to do than listen out 24/7 for a hum running underneath the twittering of birds outside and the traffic on the nearby North Circular and distant planes overhead.

rear view of airplane wing
Photo by Ahmed Muntasir on Pexels.com

But once you’ve heard it, you can’t un-hear it

I googled “background hum” (other search engines are available) and I find I’m one of the lucky ones. People around the world are being driven to distraction, by the hum. There’s even a Wikipedia article about it.

Apparently, between 2% and 4% of people hear it (depending on which article you read).

The Hum was first documented in the late 1960s, around Bristol in England. It first appeared in the United States in the late 1980s, in Taos, New Mexico. An early theory blamed the electric grid or cellphone towers, but cellphones didn’t exist in the 1960s, and the frequency emitted by both cell towers and the electric grid can be easily blocked by metal enclosures.

It seems that the hums we hear are caused by different things (which makes sense of the different hums in my different residences). This is also backed up by the experience of one sufferer documented in an article published last year at https://www.kalw.org/news/2021-11-01/the-hum-a-worldwide-mystery-sound-explained. The article sums up most of the theories I’ve found in my (not exactly exhaustive) research and gives a layman’s description of how sound waves work. For those unable to screen it out, the article also offers suggestions for habituating oneself to the noise, based on advice offered to sufferers of tinnitus.

So I shall stop worrying about bills for electrical output that I can’t identify. I shall stop trying to decide if it’s louder at the front or the back of the house, and I shall stop casting funny looks at our neighbours’ upstairs windows.

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Does anyone else out there hear the Hum?

Does your family think you’re having auditory hallucinations?

18 thoughts on “The Hum

  1. Hi Cathy when we lived in Stanground we heard a hum at night and often
    wondered what caused it. My husband used to say it was the RAF turning Jet engines at Alconbury as they tested them. After moving to Whittlesey still heard the hum mainly at night but only hear it occasionally now. It may be that my hearing is not as good or that we have upgraded our doors and double glazing. A real mystery but I think it is electrical.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Were just outside Whittlesey, in the Blackbush area and our inre optics come via overhead wires, so neighbour and I think that could be the culprit. All the fields around us are crossed with overhead electrical feeds as well, which could explain why I get a sense of it when walking the dogs. Perhaps the different overheads are picking up vibrations from eath other as well.

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  2. A few weeks ago my partner kept saying ” I keep waking up & hearing a humming sound, can you hear it” She told me to put my hearing aids in a listen. Then it clicked & I had to confess. I had bought yet ANOTHER anti-snoring device. Adding to my latest collection, this one has a little 3-speed motor that pumps extra air into your nostrils . This was what was making the humming noise. It has now joined the collection in my bedside drawer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love it! Now I’m tuned in to background noises I can hear high-pitched hum from the plug-in doorbell chime and chuntering from the timer under our bed. hubby, of course, can’t hear a thing. I think he only wears his hearing aids at all because they tune in to the TV (which means he can’t hear anyone talking to him AT ALL when he’s watching TV).

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    1. It does sound similar to a distant tumble drier – especially in the Whittlesey house, where it stops and starts again – like a tumble drier reversing its turn.
      For me, it isn’t obtrusive enough to bother me during the day, as my husband’s tinnitus plagued him. (His tinnitus disappeared after a coronary bypass, when he had an electric shock to restart his fibrillating heart.)
      The hum doesn’t even keep me awake at night now I have an explanation for it, but it was reassuring to find it wasn’t just me and that other people hear things too.

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  4. I hear the hum. In fact, it’s the main reason why I’m moving. The vibration passes up through the floor and vibrates the chairs I sit in, and even my bed. I’m so distressed about it because of my kitties. Luckily, here, there’s an attributable source–the company with their grain elevators that’s running all day long, replaced by idling trains during the evenings and weekends. But, as an aside, here’s an article about the Taos hum in New Mexico (I used to live in that state prior to coming to Kansas.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hum

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, I read that similar hums have different causes depending on your location, but they’re all maddening to some degree. I think here in Whittlesey it’s the overhead electricity cables running along the fields around us, possibly combining with the fibre optic broadband cables, also overhead.
    Good luck with your move. Hope they don’t open anything vibrational near your new home…

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  6. I might be willing to trade the hum for the often vibration from bass speakers blaring from the neighbors. I can drown out the noise but not the vibration. My husband, by the way, rarely hears any of the strange sounds I hear all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My husband rarely hears me talking to him. When I tell him something for the third time I’m not sure if it’s his dodgy hearing, selective deafness or incipient Alzheimers.
    (I told him that, and I think he is trying to pay more attention – if only to reassure himself.)

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  8. What you hear sounds like tinnitus. My friend Jean hears a hum constantly. It is getting to the point it interferes with her hearing all the time. Hearing aids don’t help with her problem. However, it could be noise. There are a lot of noises in the world. My husband won’t wear his hearing aids because he hates hearing all the ambient noise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My husband suffered from tinnitus until he was sent for electrotherapy to stop fibrillation after his heart bypass. He hasn’t suffered from it since. I wondered if my noises was something internal – like tinnitus or articular activity, until I took more notice while we were at our other address. there is a him there, but it is a different hum – more continuous; less pauses. which backs up the theory that these are background atmospheric hums – like the Taos Hum in New Mexico was found to be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, that is amazing. I hear buzzing, too, but for the most part I can ignore it. I’m going to check out that hum in Taos. I’d never heard of that before. We live in a very noisy world and because we have so much noise it’s easy to cover up hums.

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