In case you’re wondering why I’m interested in tinnitus; by day I happen to work for Action on Hearing Loss, but I also have tinnitus myself and if you listen to records, go to gigs, play in a band or just generally love music (and the chances are that if you’re reading this blog at least one or more of these will apply), it’s something you really should be thinking about too. If you’re not sure what tinnitus is, the Action on Hearing Loss website gives perhaps the best ‘in a nut shell’ definition, describing it as follows:
“Tinnitus is a medical term to describe the perception of noise either in one ear, both ears or in the head, when there is no corresponding external sound.”
Whilst tinnitus can vary from person to person, for me it manifests itself as a high pitch ringing, which is particularly prominent in my left ear, and was almost certainly caused by too much exposure to loud music. I’ve been in to music for as long as I can remember and when it comes to ways you can damage your hearing, I’m guilty of most. From going to gigs, playing in bands and DJing in clubs – all without using earplugs – to long studio sessions at excessive volumes and generally listening to mp3 players way too loud, my rap sheet is pretty comprehensive. Evidently all this took its toll and about 18 months ago what used to be a short-lived post-gig phenomenon became a permanent fixture.
At first I went through a process which is probably familiar to most people with tinnitus; scouring the internet for information, trying to persuade doctors to refer me to an ENT specialist and eventually having to face the fact that I was most likely going to be stuck with it. However, since the initial shock I’m learning to adjust and make sure I protect my hearing to avoid any further damage. Now if I’m going to a gig I don’t leave the house without my earplugs in my pocket and my days of turning it up to 11 are over.
After I developed tinnitus it surprised me to find out that several of my friends who are involved in music also had it; some of them for years. It appears that, for want of infinitely better words, many people seem to suffer in silence. What’s perhaps more alarming though is the amount of musicians and gig-goers I talk to who, although currently tinnitus free, aren’t protecting their hearing. Unfortunately by the time you realise ‘that ringing sound’ isn’t going away, the damage is already done and if I were able to impart advice to my younger self, “wear earplugs!” would certainly be near the top of the list.
That’s why the work that Action on Hearing Loss and others are doing to raise awareness about tinnitus, how it can be avoided and how to mange it, is so important. Throughout Tinnitus Awareness Week, Action on Hearing Loss Noise Squads have been taking to the streets up and down the country, with the charity’s volunteers testing the volume of people’s mp3 players and warning of the dangers of listening too loud. The charity’s campaigners have also been lobbying MPs and telling people about the new EU standard 85dB sound limit for personal music players, which comes into force this month. This is all on the back of the on-going Loud Music campaign, which attendees of last year’s Camden Crawl may be familiar with, aiming to highlight the long term risks of exposure to loud music and how to protect your hearing.
For me one of the key points about tinnitus is that it can be avoided. So if music is important to you, I’d urge you to take care of your ears. If you are already affected by tinnitus, don’t despair. Once you start talking to people about it you will find that there are countless others living with tinnitus and still loving their music, and there is advice and information available to help you do the same.
And remember, don’t forget your earplugs!