Save Your Hearing Campaign: Tinnitus, a personal account by Ali Robbins

Tinnitus can come in many sound forms; some are high pitched, others a constant buzzing noise, ringing or low in tone among many others. We recently talked to Andrew Diver who describes his tinnitus as a constant white noise.

However, when we recently spoke with Ali Robbins, who’s been offered help and advice from British Tinnitus Association as well as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), she describes her tinnitus as a constant high pitched tones that can hiss on occasion and also change tone.

Aside from the differing sounds heard by tinnitus sufferers, their symptoms can vary too. We talked with Ali to find out how tinnitus affected her life initially and how she overcame her anxiety and depression related to the condition.

“I have suffered from tinnitus for 23 years now and initially I was badly affected by it. I was around 19 years old when I realised I had tinnitus. I did experience short bursts of ringing in my ears from time to time, but this case was different,” said Ali.

“I heard the noise constantly in both ears and found it incredibly hard to ignore. It came to a point that I started listening out for the noise, which began to affect my sleep. It began to affect my confidence and made me feel quite depressed.

“At 19 years old, which is an important time in a teenager’s life, and a time you should be out enjoying yourself, I was told under no circumstances should I ‘ever go anywhere noisy / never go to a concert / never go to a noisy bar / not go to clubs and pubs or cinema / avoid at all costs loud noise’. 

“I was told that only in extreme circumstances could I go for short periods to noisy places, but I would have to wear foam ear plugs to ‘protect my sensitive hearing’.

“This news was pretty devastating as, at that time, my social life - as most teenagers find - revolved around music, socialising and going out with friends.  I resigned myself to a life where I could not do the things I loved unless I wore ear plugs, and from that moment on, in any noisy social situation, I wore these ear plugs – even when I used the hairdryer.  I was so fearful that I would do myself more damage; I was going to make damned sure that wouldn’t happen.

“All went very well until around two years later I started to find even normal every day sounds very loud.  It started when I realised that when I was watching TV I could hear the emission sound from it more than the sound of the TV itself, and over the course of a few months, everything became too loud for me – so much so that even my family having dinner and cutting food on their plates became excruciating for me. 

“My confidence that had been back to normal started to disappear and I became very anxious and depressed.  Because I was then so worried about the pain I was experiencing from any noises, I stopped going out and eventually under duress, visited the doctors who prescribed anti-depressants.”

During this time, Ali was signed off work for a month or so with the feeling of being unable to function due to lack of sleep and being too upset; caused in no small part to incorrect professional advice that she’d initially been given.

“Over the course of a couple of months, I had weekly sessions with a CBT counsellor (who suffered with tinnitus herself) and gradually I was able to retrain my brain to ignore the tinnitus and allow myself to start going out again/going to work. 

“The CBT gave me really useful steps to help me realise that by listening out for the tinnitus sounds, I was allowing them to be louder than they actually were. 

“This was almost 20 years ago, and as an avid music fan I have been to many concerts and festivals and have not been affected by the tinnitus since.”

Tinnitus can have a detrimental effect on people’s lives like Ali has shown, which is why we believe our #Saveyourhearing campaign is so important.

There is no real cure for tinnitus and other hearing problems, which is why prevention is the only realistic option. When we asked Ali what advice she would give to those who  continue to subject themselves to loud noises on a regular basis, she responded: “I think everyone's experience is different but for me, if I was subjecting myself to loud music on a regular basis, I would spend some of this time wearing ear plugs.  It is better to be safe than sorry.  

“You only have to see at gigs and festivals that most sound engineers or stage hands will be wearing some sort of protection and that's so worthwhile.  I would also suggest younger people turn down the music in their headphones as I would be worried that continual use could cause hearing damage.”

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