Bronagh, 37, from Belfast, developed tinnitus at just 12 years old, after standing next to a speaker at a youth disco.
“WHEN I was in secondary school, I used to go to a youth disco with friends at a local hotel in North Belfast. They had big speakers playing very loud music and my ears often rang after a night there. One particular night I stood very close to the speaker – and after this the ringing never went away.
I pushed it to the back of my mind at first, but after a few days it was still there so I told my parents. They booked me an appointment with my GP and it was then that I was diagnosed with tinnitus.
Looking back now, you’d think it would be common sense not to stand by the speakers, but I didn’t know anything about the risk at all – I didn’t even give it a second thought. I certainly never thought the ringing would stay with me forever.”
The ringing continued into my teenage years, affecting my ability to hear people clearly and making it difficult to sleep. When I was 19 I was referred to the ENT department, but the doctor I saw was very dismissive, telling me there was no cure and I would just have to live with it. I went back to the hospital again in my early 20s and I was again told the same thing – that there was nothing they could do, which.
Twenty-five years after my first diagnosis, tinnitus continues to negatively affect me. Living in a busy household with three young children can be noisy. I work as a teacher and classrooms too can be noisy places; even when everyone is silent there can be shuffling feet and pencil cases, chairs moving and even the projector whirling and I struggle to hear what the pupils are saying.
In 2017 my tinnitus became particularly bad and was really starting to adversely affect my work, my family life and sleep so I went back to see the GP. Thankfully, this doctor was much more understanding, gave me some medication to try and sent another referral to ENT.
People who I talk to about my tinnitus often ask what it sounds like. I try to explain it as a static, hissing noise that’s louder in my right ear than in my left and I can hear it above most noises. Sometimes it can get quite high pitched. Once I was at a local leisure centre, when I heard the fire alarm going off. I couldn’t understand why people weren’t evacuating and it was only when I got on the bus that I realised it was in my head. It’s not like that all the time, but sometimes when the tone changes it can become very high pitched and louder than usual. It’s generally worse at night but I can hear it above the background noise of daily life.
People just don’t understand about the risks of listening to loud music. I often hear the opinion that ‘I’ve been to many concerts before and I have been fine,’ so I was delighted to hear about Action on Hearing Loss’ Don’t Lose the Music campaign. I certainly wish I had known about the damage that music could cause and I think it’s so important that people are raising awareness of the potential impact of listening to music at unsafe levels. It’s especially important to me that people know that tinnitus can be with you forever. That’s the scary thing – just one night out and you could end up living with tinnitus every minute of every day for the rest of your life.