Learning to live with the noise of tinnitus

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Coldplay’s Chris Martin has revealed he is one of the five million people in the UK who suffer from tinnitus.

Features editor Joni Ager finds out more about the condition and what it means for sufferers.

We’ve all been to a concert or a nightclub and returned home with ringing in our ears.

The sound usually passes in a few hours, but for some it can be a long-lasting and even permanent condition known as tinnitus.

Last week Coldplay frontman Chris Martin revealed that years of playing live has left him with the condition.

The singer said he had suffered from the condition for about 10 years and had now started protecting his ears.

He said: “I wish I’d thought about it earlier. Now we always use moulded filter plugs, or in-ear monitors, to try to protect our ears.”

According to the British Tinnitus Association, tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of any corresponding external sound. It affects about one in 10 people and there are an estimated five million sufferers in the UK. For one per cent of people it is so severe it affects their quality of life.

Kim Wood, of Deaf Connect, which supports people with hearing problems in Northamptonshire and Rutland, runs a tinnitus support group.

She has 30 regular members at the moment but over the past two years she has given advice to about 100 people in Northamptonshire about the condition.

Kim herself has suffered from tinnitus for the past 20 years.

She said: “When you first get it and notice the noise it can be quite alarming. You are hearing a noise other people can’t hear and it’s quite intrusive. You can’t get rid of it and if you have it quite severely it is difficult to concentrate on anything else.

“The type of noise you might hear can vary hugely. I had four different sounds at first. One was a very high-pitched whistle and some would come and go at different frequencies.

“I have had clients who say it sounds like a washing machine and others say it’s like an orchestra tuning up.

“The most common sound is a buzzing or ringing in your ears.”

There is no cure for tinnitus and doctors are not even sure what causes it. Kim said: “Most commonly people will go to a gig and listen to too loud music, then come out with tinnitus. Usually it lasts a day or just a few hours. No-one knows the causes of noise that lasts for longer.

“Quite often people will wake up from an anaesthetic with it, and it can often be triggered by stress.

“There is a big link to stress. The more stressed you are, the more likely you will hear your tinnitus. But the more you hear it, the more stressed you become.

“What we do in the support group is focus on things that will help you to relax rather than the tinnitus itself.

“There is no cure because they are still trying to work out what it is. They thought at first it was something in the ear and now they are saying it is something to do with the brain.

“After 20 years I got to the point where I could switch it off if I didn’t think about it. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me.”

The tinnitus support groups meets on the second Monday of every other month. The next meeting is on June 11 at 2pm at Spencer Dallington Community Centre in Tintern Avenue, Northampton. Admission is £1. People can also call Deafconnect on 01604 589011 for advice.