Tinnitus Awareness Week

FOR some it's a high pitched noise, for others a low buzzing. Feature writer JAMES MARSTON speaks to two tinnitus sufferers determined not to let it ruin their lives.

National Tinnitus Awareness Week, feature writer JAMES MARSTON speaks to two sufferers determined not to let it ruin their lives.

FOR some it's a high pitched noise, for others a low buzzing.

Tinnitus - the sensation of a sound in the ear or head not produced by external noise - affects people in different ways.

Well-known sufferers include many performers from the entertainment industry such as Sting, Phil Collins and rock star Pete Townshend who describes it as "painful and frustrating". Former Star Trek star, William Shatner, admits he even once contemplated suicide because of the condition.

He said that until he had successful treatment to minimise his symptoms it was "like listening to the hiss of a TV that's not tuned into a channel. I thought I'd go deaf or nuts".

Karen Finch, a tinnitus counsellor and hearing aid audiologist at The Hearing Care Centre Ltd, in High Street, Ipswich, helped set up the Suffolk Tinnitus Support Group.

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She said: “Tinnitus is a particularly dreadful condition, though in fact it is a symptom rather than a disease. The sound can be of any pitch or type, continuous or intermittent. Sounds can take a variety of forms such as buzzing, ringing or whistling, hissing or a range of other sounds.

“For some it can even sound like music or singing. Sometimes sufferers only notice these sounds when it is very quite, such as at night. Others find the sounds can be loud enough to intrude on everyday life.”

A patient of the Hearing Care Centre, Chris Gaunt, of Epsom Drive, Ipswich, has suffered from tinnitus for about six years.

He hears a whooshing noise in one ear. He said: “It is hard to remember exactly when it started. It is something you expect to go away but it never does. It is like a white noise.

“In my case it is very subtle and only when no other noise is around. I describe it as a niggling whooshing sound.”

A plant fitter at the Port of Felixstowe, Chris, 48, at first wondered if the condition was brought on by industrial noise. He said: “Where I work can be a noisy environment but I do not think it is industrial related. I think it is hereditary. My father suffered with it and so has my brother.”

Now issued with a digital hearing aid, Chris' quality of life is much improved.

He said: “It is something you have to put up with and come to terms with. It can get you down there is no cure. But you do learn to deal with it.

“The hearing aid has made such a difference. I was conscious about wearing it at first but I got used to it very quickly. It takes the tinnitus out of your mind.”

A father-of-two, Chris said he had found group situations difficult.

He added: “You tend to hang back out of everything but the hearing aid has made a phenomenal difference. I wouldn't leave the house without it.”

However, hearing aids are not the answer for everybody.

Graham Jensen, of Valley Road, Battisford, said: “I have had tinnitus for about 15 years. I have a very high pitched and loud squealing sound. It is constant.”

Finding it difficult to deal with, Graham has discovered he prefers to be in noisy places. He said: “It is annoying but the more you think about it the worse it gets. The noise in my head is so irritating any noise is better than the noise I am hearing.”

The 62-year-old carpenter said he does not suffer from tinnitus when he is concentrating at work.

He said: “I am fortunate I can remove the noise during the working day. Tinnitus affects me more when I am relaxing and sometimes it is hard to sleep.”

Organiser of the Suffolk Tinnitus Support Group, Graham knows how difficult the condition can be to live with. He said: “The group is a group of about 25 friends who suffer tinnitus and I am also one of the group's counsellors. Every one of us has different requirements. Some people find it easier to be in noise others don't.”

Karen said: “The aim of the awareness week, promoted by the British Tinnitus Association, is to improve understanding of tinnitus and the issues that people with the condition have to face.

“Tinnitus has no known medical cure and attracts very little scientific research. Mystery surrounding tinnitus has borne many myths and misconceptions that next week the organisers hope to dispel.”

Karen Brunger from the RNID said: "Tinnitus can have a devastating effect on people's relationships and work lives.

"For people who may be experiencing tinnitus for the first time, it can be very distressing and isolating."

Both RNID and the British Tinnitus Association receive 800 calls a month from people who experience tinnitus and she added: "We hope the week will make people aware that they are not alone and it is possible to manage the condition."

Finding a cure through scientific research is the aim of another charity, Action for Tinnitus Research, whose operation director Nick Doughty said: "It's a difficult condition at any age, but it is of concern that a growing number of young people are suffering this condition."

The charity estimates that a proportion of young people number amongst the 200,000 sufferers who have the condition severely. One of the causes is exposure to excessive noise levels.

"Many youngsters are unaware of the risk of hearing damage and tinnitus that they expose themselves to through excessive noise levels at rock concerts, night clubs or through overuse of personal stereos."

For more information about the Suffolk Tinnitus Support Group call Graham on 01449 720386.

In support of National Tinnitus Week, The Hearing Care Centre Ltd has organised a drop-in day on Wednesday from 10am to 4.30pm to help those with tinnitus and pick up a tinnitus information bag. For more information contact 0800 0962637.

Do you suffer from tinnitus? How do you cope? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

There are 3.3 million in the UK who have consulted their doctor about buzzing, ringing or whistling noises in their ear?

See your doctor

Tinnitus is rarely an indication of a serious disorder, but it is wise to see your doctor if you think you might have it.

Should something treatable be causing it, you might be referred to a specialist.

Try not to worry

The noises may seem worse if you are anxious or stressed. When tinnitus starts, particularly if it's sudden, you may naturally be frightened and your concentration or your sleep may be disturbed

Find out more

You will probably feel better when you find out more about the condition - it's very common and you're not alone.

Many people say that they notice tinnitus less when they are doing something.

Weblink www.tinnitus.org.uk

Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom, and in many cases is a natural part of the ageing process.

Tinnitus sounds can take a variety of forms such as buzzing, ringing, whistling, hissing or a range of other noises.

For some people it can even sound like music or singing. Sometimes sufferers only notice these sounds when it is very quiet. Others find that they are much louder and can intrude on everyday life, and some also experience pain in the ear as well.

Occasionally tinnitus noise beats in time with your pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus.

If you become anxious or annoyed by tinnitus, your sound response systems will tune your filters into it and you will start to hear it more. Your filters can be taught to ignore the tinnitus signal through a 'habituation' process.

A specialist may suggest habituation therapy, which aims to change your sound response systems so that you gradually become less aware of the tinnitus. It can involve counselling, hearing aids, relaxation or sound therapy.

Even a few minutes hearing up to 120 decibels of noise at a concert or nightclub can at the least temporarily damage hearing, according to Action for Tinnitus Research - while 15 minutes listening to a personal stereo on top volume can also have temporary effects.