Shropshire Tinnitus Support Group coffee morning at The Hub

Tinnitus Awareness Week: a personal reflection

Signal Charity PeopleSignal’s Chief Executive Mathew Gilbert reflects on a condition, the causes of which are still not fully understood…

Sharing the message

This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week 2015 and we at Signal are supporting local tinnitus support groups to get the message out. As an organisation which supports individuals concerned by and groups and services concerned with hearing loss and deafness, one of Signal’s roles is to raise the profile of conditions such as tinnitus. However, for myself the importance of this week takes on a personal slant, as I myself have tinnitus.

Tinnitus is the perception of sound within one or both ears where no external source is present. The sounds can come or go or be continuous; they can be high-, medium- or low-pitched.

The British Tinnitus Association states: “Tinnitus is not a disease or an illness, it is a symptom generated within a person’s own auditory pathways. Although it is often assumed that tinnitus occurs as a result of disease of the ears, this is often not the case. The precise cause of tinnitus is still not fully understood.”

Anyone can get tinnitus, with about 10% of the population living with some level of tinnitus at any one time. For some people the condition can be debilitating and can have a large impact on their lives. 

My experience

The story of my tinnitus dates back to when I was nine years old. I was coming home from school when I was hit by a speeding motorcycle travelling at over 60 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone. I was hit on my left side and catapulted 50 feet down the road.

I was lucky that my major injuries were a fractured collarbone and fractured skull. I did, however, also have glass from the motorcycle’s headlight embedded in my left ear, but which luckily did not rupture my ear drum. Visits to my local Audiology and Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) departments showed that I had only sustained mild hearing loss in my left ear, but I was told that this would possibly worsen as I aged.

I am now in my 40s and my hearing has deteriorated over the past few years, particularly in my left ear. Over the past three years I have also developed tinnitus in the one ear where the glass had been lodged. The Audiology and ENT diagnosis is that this is most likely linked to the trauma I received when I was hit by the motorcycle. My tinnitus is a high-pitched, ringing squeal which goes up and down in volume at different times.

Does it impact on my life? Yes it does, but it doesn’t hinder my ability to do things. Does it get me down? Sometimes yes – particularly when I am in a quiet environment the ringing gets to a very high level – but most of the time I am not bothered by it. It amazes me sometimes how this very clear sound which I hear is not heard by anyone else around me, but that is tinnitus and unless you experience it yourself it is difficult to comprehend what it is and what it means to those who have it.

Conversations

Chatting about tinnitusAs part of this year’s Tinnitus Awareness Week I have just enjoyed a coffee morning hosted by the local tinnitus support group and held at the Links Café in Signal: The Hub in Shrewsbury.

This was an opportunity for people with tinnitus to get together in a friendly place and chat about the condition – among other things. I had some really nice conversations and found out a number of things about tinnitus which I had not known before. Judging by the smiles on most people’s faces, it looked like most people had a really good time.

In my role within Signal I understand the importance of communication and the need to reduce isolation. Tinnitus can be a barrier for many people, but tinnitus support groups can help people over this barrier and this is why Signal will continue to support such groups however we can.

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