Feb 09

Tinnitus Awareness Week

4th to 10th February is Tinnitus Awareness Week and I’d like to write briefly about it today as a sufferer of over 20 years. Tinnitus is best described as a high pitched ringing heard in the head by the sufferer when no such noise source exists in the real world.

You can get lots of info from the UK charity ACTION ON HEARING LOSS as they are at the forefront of the awareness campaign, but everybody suffers in a slightly different way. For me, I have both high and low frequency noises and it’s stronger in my right ear than my left. I cope by always having some kind of other noise in the background to mask it I go to sleep, for example, with my iPad under my pillow playing a pod cast or the radio. I even find comfort listening to the washing machine or the dish washer going through their cycles. One thing I can’t experience any more is silence. It’s ALWAYS there, and how it affects me depends on the efficiency of the distraction. You may find it hard to grasp, but it can be a truly awful experience and I want to say again so that you understand, IT’S ALWAYS THERE.


The thing about tinnitus is that it’s almost completely avoidable if you are aware of it before hand. Tom Robinson, the musician and presenter of the excellent Fresh on the Net, which gives independent and unsigned musicians and bands the chance to have their material heard, is giving this awareness week some serious space on his site because to be forewarned about the condition could save one from ever having to suffer.

In the music business there is an unhealthy attitude to image and putting earplugs in before going to a gig, or playing at a gig won’t ever be a cool thing to do unless some really cool people get behind this and start a trend. You may wonder how I cope being a musician and sound engineer and the answer is I have stopped playing loud music. I don’t play loud in the studio, none of my gigs are that needy of a 70,000 watt PA system, and in fact, the music itself serves as a distraction. The truth is it’s not that bad in the day to day scheme of things. It’s when it comes to time for rest or sleep that it gets you. Any new parents will tell you – nothing makes a person more irritable than when they are deprived of a decent rest. If you have believed anything I have said so far, believe this – tinnitus is certainly capable of preventing that.

I can pinpoint the actual moment I began suffering with tinnitus and even though it sounds funny, it wasn’t at the time. I was 24 or so and in a rock cover band. We were playing ‘Alright Now’ by Free. As there is not too much for a piano player to play in that particular song, I was prancing around the stage in my mock leather pants bashing out time on a cowbell. As the guitar solo began and the guitarist began vying for more stage real estate, I retreated to the drum riser, poked my head through the cymbals and took over the hi-hats from the front, while the drummer hit the cowbell in my hand. All was going well until the solo ended, the drummer did the required fill and hit both cymbals at the same time. From that very moment my ears began to ring and they have been ringing ever since. The only time I never notice it is when I’m flying on an aeroplane, but I can’t live my life at 36,000 feet.

If you are a musician or concert goer or just a heavy iPod user, go easy on the volume or get some ear plugs. You might be interested to know that my good friend Widgeon Holland, featured on a page on this very site and one of the coolest people I know plus a brilliant musician, he always wears plugs. More musicians should. Look after your hearing and help spread the word. Tinnitus is generally for life, like a tattoo, so be very very careful as reversal is not an option.



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