In light of The British Tinnitus Association’s Tinnitus Week (4 -10 February 2019), we have put together information on the condition and what services are out there to assist those suffering. We have many clients that suffer from military related tinnitus and understand that the condition can be debilitating. Tinnitus Week aims to raise awareness of the condition and highlight the help available to those living with tinnitus.
What is Tinnitus?
Imagine constantly listening to the high pitch ringing of a fire alarm from dusk until dawn, or having a dentist’s drill going off next to your ear 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For those suffering from tinnitus, living with constant noise like this is part of everyday life.
Tinnitus is generally described as a ringing, hissing or buzzing noise. According to the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) about 30% of people will experience tinnitus at some point during their lives, with approximately 10% of the population suffering the effects of extreme tinnitus. A significant proportion of this 10% are likely to serve, or have previously served, in the Armed Forces and may be suffering tinnitus as a result of exposure to excessive levels of noise during their military service.
When enlisting, most individuals will be aware that a career in the military will not be a quiet one, and service personnel expect to be exposed to significant levels of noise throughout their career. According to the Royal British Legion veterans under the age of 75 are approximately three and a half times more likely to report hearing difficulties in comparison to the general population, a significant number of these will also develop tinnitus.
‘The not so silent epidemic’
In 2014 the Royal British Legion (RBL) published the ‘Lost Voices’ report investigating hearing problems amongst service personnel. Their report was based largely on the ‘UK Ex-Service Household Survey 2014’, which they highlight as being the most comprehensive survey of the ex-Service community within the last century.
Latest figures suggest that 11% of Veterans that took part in the survey suffer from hearing problems, and 6% reported tinnitus. This means that roughly 300,000 ex-service personnel are impacted by the negative effects of hearing loss.
To this day, the specific cause of tinnitus remains a mystery. We know ear infections, stress and exposure to loud noises contribute to the development of the condition, but the exact causal mechanism is yet to be established. As a result, there is still no cure for tinnitus. The RBL highlight that exposure to noise in the Armed Forces is likely to be a major cause of tinnitus in service personnel, but as there has been little focus on research into this link within the British Military, there are few statistics indicating the negative impacts on individuals. Many of our clients are simply told that nothing can be done to help their tinnitus, and there is no cure. As a result, sufferers are generally unaware of the help available, and as a consequence, many individuals express feelings of isolation and loneliness throughout their battle.
The British Tinnitus Association’s Tinnitus Week (4 -10 February 2019)
This year Tinnitus Week, running from 4-10 February, is focussed on the theme of Tinnitus and Isolation. The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) have spent the week raising awareness of the potentially life debilitating conditions through different socials media platforms, and hosting events nationwide.
Monday 4 February marked the launch of BTA’s Tinnitus Week Campaign, addressing the impact tinnitus can have on an individual’s life, and encouraging those whom suffer to share their stories and reach out for help. 
The BTA run a helpline to provide those suffering from the condition, as well as loved ones and carers, with information about tinnitus and the support services available. Throughout 2018 the BTA helpline took calls from over 3,000 people. Whether you are looking for information on local services and support groups, or you just need some support through a tough day, BTA members of staff are contactable Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, on 0800 018 0527 (all calls are free from a UK Landline and UK Mobile). On 5 February the BTA and their staff went the extra mile, opening their helpline overnight in order to speak to people with tinnitus who are struggling to sleep. We often take our sleep for granted, but for an individual suffering from tinnitus a good night’s sleep may be out of reach –having someone on the other end of the phone offering support and reassurance provides an opportunity to help individuals obtain the support and advice when they need it the most.
Tinnitus sufferers often struggle with sleep. This can have a knock on effect on many aspects of their day to day lives. Many of our clients find their tinnitus is at its worst when they are in a quiet environment, which is typically at bedtime. As a result, sufferers may rely on the television or music to provide background noise to mask the constant buzzing and help them sleep. This often causes tension with partners and it is not a practical solution for those who are not sleeping alone.
On 6 February the BTA released a podcast on their website discussing how relationships can be affected by tinnitus and how to combat issues that may arise. As a sufferer, they recommend opening up about problems to loved ones, and as a loved one they encourage patience and understanding.
Many take sleep and communicating with others for granted. The BTA reports that whilst socialising with friends in public is a routine part of life, the 30% impacted by tinnitus can find socialising in public an impossible task. This can lead to feelings of isolation and withdrawal from society. Furthermore, with a high level of background noise affected individuals must concentrate more to be part of the conversation, causing headaches or anxiety. Often, people mistake minimal communication for being rude, when actually it is an inability to hear above the ringing sound. The BTA recognise this issue and on Thursday 7 February shared ideas on how to tackle the negative impact tinnitus can have on your social life and encouraging individuals to fight and not let the condition take over their life.
Over the weekend of 8 February, the BTA will be spending Friday highlighting the support available nationwide at over 100 tinnitus support groups. This aims to encourage suffers to meet people who can share experiences, personal tips and emotional support, highlighting the week’s focal point: The key message is that you are not alone.
Before rounding up the week's activities with an overview on Tinnitus Week, the BTA will be hosting an information day in Hull on Saturday 9 February.
How to get help
If you, or a loved one, are suffering from tinnitus we encourage you to reach out for support. If you have served in the Armed Forces and believe your condition is a result of service, you may be entitled to claim for the tinnitus and hearing loss from which you suffer. For legal advice on whether you may have a claim, contact us today. We have a team of experts ready to listen to your story and assess the strength of your possible claim against the MoD for tinnitus or hearing loss. We can also advise on whether you may be able to claim for the costs of any treatments or equipment you may require to help limit the impact tinnitus has on your day to day life.
For further information or help with tinnitus, you can also contact the NHS, British Tinnitus Association or Action on Hearing Loss.