The cause remains a mystery, but the physical proof is there. So says a paper published by doctors who initially examined 25 of the 26 afflicted US embassy workers in Cuba who were struck by mystery ailments in late 2016, reports the AP. Doctors at the University of Miami found those who complained of hearing a mysterious sound all exhibited damage to the otolith—the part of the inner ear that controls balance; they aren't yet sure if it's permanent. The study, published in Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, also countered earlier claims that those affected had suffered a traumatic brain injury; these doctors don't believe that to be the case.
"Our findings are dramatically different from what concussions look like," lead author Dr. Michael Hoffer tells the Miami Herald, which reports mild traumatic brain injury is "known as concussion." "These people were injured," Hoffer tells the New York Times, contrary to some suggestions it was a case of mass hysteria. "We're not sure how. The injury resulted in ear damage and some trouble thinking." Hoffer also recounted what the patients described: a "force field"-like sensation that vanished when they opened their home's door. The study suggest that those trying to find the source of the noise increased their exposure to it by looking for it. As for the impact, he says that when the balance organ is damaged, the body essentially exhausts itself trying to maintain balance; he suggested that extreme tiredness could lead to cognitive problems. (Read more Cuba stories.)