Military related tinnitus – an invisible injury

13 Apr 2018 | Comment


Quite often when we are approached by a military client wanting to make a claim for their hearing loss, the first complaint that we get from them is not actually about problems with hearing. Many complain of suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes devastating condition called tinnitus. For many of our clients, tinnitus is regarded as being a far bigger problem than difficulty hearing.

Tinnitus is the hearing of a sound when there is no external noise present. It usually takes the form of a ringing, buzzing, whooshing, humming or a whistling noise that can be constant or intermittent.

According to the British Tinnitus Association, around 30% of the population experience tinnitus at some stage of their lives but 10% of people live with persistent tinnitus. Many of that 10% are likely to be sufferers of noise-induced hearing loss including many former military personnel.

Military personnel are often exposed to noise levels that are likely to be much louder than sounds heard in day to day life. At Hugh James we see many veterans and serving personnel from all 3 services who say they are struggling with hearing loss and tinnitus due to exposure to excessive noise, often without any or any adequate hearing protection.

The effects of tinnitus can vary in severity, from a slight nuisance to having a catastrophic effect on the quality of life of a sufferer. A report by Tyler and Baker in 1983 confirmed that 93% in a self-help group for tinnitus said it affected their lifestyle, 56% felt it affected their general health and 70% said tinnitus caused them emotional difficulties. Tinnitus can clearly have a profound effect on quality of life. We have even had a military client here at Hugh James tell us that they would rather be totally deaf than have the constant, intrusive tinnitus.

Sufferers often find it disheartening to learn that there is no cure for tinnitus. However, there are treatments out there to lessen the impact that the tinnitus has on daily life and to help mask the noise.

One of the most common methods of dealing with tinnitus is to use other sounds to mask the noise of the tinnitus. Tinnitus usually seems loudest in a quiet environment. It isn’t unusual for a tinnitus sufferer to take a couple of hours to drop off to sleep. However, the noise of tinnitus often doesn’t seem so loud when there is background noise. Many of our existing clients sleep with the television on or with music playing to help them drop off if they suffer with tinnitus. However, this isn’t ideal when a partner is involved and this can lead to arguments at bed time. Some of our clients to tell us they sleep separately from their partner because of the effect the tinnitus is having on their sleep. This in turn may impact on relationships.

Even when hearing loss isn’t really noticed, the medical experts we go to tell us a hearing aid can be of benefit to someone with tinnitus. This is because advanced hearing aids can have channels which generate low level white noise that can mask the noise of the tinnitus. This can be used at bedtime as an alternative to having to sleep with the television or the radio on. Usually, hearing aids with these advanced features aren’t accessible on the NHS. Unfortunately, these types of aids can cost around £4,000 – £5,000 per pair which can place them out of reach for many veterans.

For some of our military clients, professional help is needed to deal with problematic tinnitus. There are many different types of treatment for tinnitus. What works for some people won’t work for others so there will likely be a period of trial and error whilst you experiment to discover what works for you. One of the more popular therapies widely used across the NHS is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (‘TRT’). TRT is a type of counselling which can assist some suffers with their symptoms of tinnitus. It helps sufferers to cope with their tinnitus on a conscious and subconscious level. For example, when it just starts raining you might notice the sound of the raindrops falling. However, after a while you simply block out the noise and it leaves your mind. This is what TRT attempts to achieve. The therapy is also combined with deep relaxation exercises and stress management in order to enhance coping mechanisms. The duration and success of the therapy does vary from person to person. There are other treatments out there that may work better for some.

Tinnitus is an unseen injury that can have devastating effects on your quality of life. It is important to remember that you’re not alone in suffering from these symptoms and that help is out there. Here at Hugh James we are bringing a substantial number of claims on behalf of current and former service personnel. During the claims process we will obtain expert evidence from a Consultant ENT Surgeon and if necessary, an Audiologist. These experts can recommend treatment such as TRT and the cost of these treatments are included as part of the claim. They may also recommend equipment such as hearing aids if they are of the opinion they will be beneficial. A central part of these claims involves getting military personnel the help and treatment they need to improve their quality of life.

If you are struggling with the effects of tinnitus then it is important that you discuss this with your GP. They may be able to refer you for therapy although NHS waiting lists may be lengthy. If you think you may have been exposed to excessive levels of noise whilst serving in the military, it may also be worth a call to Hugh James. Our military team can help you to achieve compensation for your tinnitus and will also seek to claim the cost of any treatment and equipment you require to bring your tinnitus symptoms under control.

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