Last updated on 19 April 2012
Richard Miller was 42 years old when his tinnitus started. Here he tells us his personal experience of managing the condition.
I was so surprised to discover that it was my ear and not my mobile phone that had packed up. I travel a lot for work and one morning in 2004 took several calls on my phone that appeared to be silent. After about the fourth mystery call I was beginning to get annoyed by the poor signal in the hotel, by chance held the phone to my other ear – perfect!
The relief at finding the phone was OK slowly faded as I walked round the hotel room picking up things and shaking them next to my ear – nothing. I then noticed that touching the ear produced no sound either – unlike the left ear. To say I was confused and a little concerned would probably be an understatement but with a busy day ahead I just got on with things. During the day I frequently picked up the phone to find silence only to remember and swap hands or try and wrap my arm round to the other side of my head like a demented circus performer.
That night was the first time I noticed the noises developing inside my head – a ringing reminiscent of walking out of a noisy club or disco in my youth. The difference was the underlying rumble that sounded a bit like a failing extractor fan in the room next door. Unfortunately during a long and largely sleepless night the extractor fan moved in to my room and has remained here ever since!
Phoning my GP next morning resulted in an appointment to see the practice nurse the following week. Having explained to her the circumstances surrounding the problem I explained how I was having difficulty hearing. In truth the lack of hearing was becoming more of an issue than I had imagined. It was difficult hearing what was going on in meetings or in groups where there was significant background noise. Hearing anyone who was sat on the right hand side was very difficult without twisting unnaturally. The lack of sleep was also becoming an issue and I would frequently wake at two or three in the morning and be unable to settle again.
After checking for wax in my ear I was prescribed a course of decongestive tablets and advised to inhale warm steam via my nose. In addition to pinching my nose and blowing to clear my tubes whenever it was polite to do so I was given reassurance that it would probably be OK in a week or two. It wasn’t of course. I was also developing into a compete ‘bear’ at home. My young family are no quieter than the norm. Returning to a house where the TV seemed to be blaring, kids were screaming and every room seemed to be filled with a cacophony of loud noise was agony; in the extreme. Combined with the lack of sleep I was losing my ability to concentrate. The only solace was travelling in the car, which I do a lot of. The road noise was somehow soothing and the frequent long journeys were the only time there seemed to be any relief.
Three months later I had seen the nurse on several occasions and eventually made an appointment with the GP. She was very sympathetic and spent some time carrying out a basic hearing function test and introduced me to the term tinnitus. She also wrote to Mr Welsh – an ENT specialist at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle who fortunately held a clinic in the local cottage hospital.
Two months later I underwent a full hearing test which confirmed I had almost total hearing loss in the right ear, hearing only remaining at the far extremes of the spectrum. The ‘good news’ was I could have a hearing aid, which may help! At 43 this was probably the worst news I needed. I am not particularly vain but the thought of wearing a hearing aid was abhorrent. It was bad enough attending hearing clinics, don’t get me wrong, everyone was polite and friendly enough, but apart from the staff I seemed to be the only person there under retiring age. I was given some information leaflets and a few photocopies of information I soon discovered were from the BTA. An appointment was made for me to attend the Audiology Department of the Freeman Hospital. I was also scheduled for a CAT scan – “in case it was something serious” Fortunately it wasn’t!
The Audiologist at the Freeman Hospital, Lyn Rowbottom, was excellent and was both informative and sympathetic. I had several appointments where we discussed in detail my developing fear of loud sound and the avoidance tactics I had employed to avoid situations whenever possible. I was made to realise that it was a self fulfilling prophesy and the more I was avoiding noisy situations the more I found them uncomfortable. We worked on a programme where I would slowly re introduce myself to noise. I started with two main strategies - firstly telling people I was deaf in one ear – a major step – and then if I felt a situation was getting too noisy, I would ask what other people thought. “Is that TV loud?” was getting a better response than “Turn that TV down!” I also obtained a cheap pillow speaker that I used in combination with a small radio set off station. This helped considerably apart from occasions when the radio suddenly found a station in the middle of the night!
With Lyn Rowbottom’s help and support I decided to try the digital hearing aid route. I was very sceptical it must be said. It was now over a year since my hearing loss. I was fitted for the hearing aid just before Christmas last year and have found it nothing short of brilliant. OK, I still struggle in noisy places a little but it has helped considerably during the day. I can usually hear what is going on now – even if some people are still difficult to pick up.
The tinnitus hasn’t changed much but my reaction to it has. I take more exercise and try to go to bed tired. I have a bit of a bedtime routine and if I wake in the night I usually get up and read. It is surprising how little sleep you really need and I usually am so tired the next night I get a better sleep.
I have come to accept the hearing aid and the tinnitus as part of my life. It is interesting and inspiring to read of others who cope with similar circumstances with a shrug. The support of the BTA has helped me realise that other much younger people suffer as much if not more than I do, that anyone can be affected and we all cope in our own way.
we all cope in our own way