My Tinnitus and Me

Simon Bull MIOA

Some of you will know me as the man at Castle, or the man who does noise and vibration, and I don’t normally talk about me at all, but I thought I’d share my own personal story about Tinnitus, how I got it and what it means to me. This is not really a noise at work story or anything to do with the regulations, but the end result is the same and the effect on my life is very real.

I have always been the active type and much of that has been on, in or under the water. I love to go sailing, having travelled all over the world doing it. I love to surf too, which has mostly happened in my home town of Scarborough, although I have surfed in the Atlantic and the Pacific! I also used to go SCUBA Diving, which is where this story picks up.

SCUBA diving is amazing, mainly because it is so unnatural to be in an environment we are simply never meant to see! I passed my first two levels of qualifications under BSAC, attaining Sport Diver and I thoroughly enjoyed it. During the winter, there was pool training, where we could help with new trainees, or play Octopush, a bonkers game of hockey underwater (just go to YouTube and search for Octopush to see what it is like). Octopush was great fun, but during one game, someone’s heel connected with my ear and the pressure wave burst my ear drum. That was bad enough, being extremely painful and very slow to heal. It has never really healed properly in fact, and I now struggle to swim under water and have trouble with pressure equalisation through my left Eustachian tube. Perhaps worse of all though, I now have tinnitus in that ear, which does not leave me and has resulted in a permanent very high pitch buzzing sound at around 8kHz (I would know!).

I will tell you this sound never goes away, but actually by-and-large, you get to a point where you ignore it, or you are doing something else, so you don’t even think about it. When I notice it most is when I am in a quiet room, have headphones in, am trying to listen to something quiet or when I’m writing about it!!! There are also times when it is worse than others, which can be down to stress, over-indulging on alcohol or just for no reason at all. At the end of the day, it’s not very nice and is something that occurs in at least 10% of the population, most of those probably through exposure to noise at work!

All this leads me to wonder how I would feel if my tinnitus had been caused by my work rather than by trying to have fun? I would not be impressed, especially if this was also linked to an element of noise induced hearing loss. On the flip side, as an employer, I would equally be horrified if I thought I had caused someone to suffer from this unnecessarily when some relatively simple measures could have prevented it.

There are treatments for some forms of tinnitus and there are even herbal supplement remedies that can ease the symptoms. For the most part, though, there is no cure and the only ‘treatments’ are around learning to live with the condition and teaching yourself to ignore it through techniques such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Most people find that background sounds help with this and I can relate to that as I never notice it when I’m watching TV!

This is always an interesting subject and one we will be touching on, more in depth, in the future. Adhering to the regulations is so important for employers and could really make a difference to someone’s life before it is too late. In the meantime, look after your hearing and if you are going to play Octopush, always wear a swimming hat with ear protection built in.

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