“I used to attend a youth disco with friends at a local hotel in North Belfast when I was 12. They had big speakers playing very loud music and my ears often rang after a night there. One 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 of my ears ringing I told my parents. They booked me an appointment with my GP and 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.
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 they were very dismissive, telling me there was no cure and I would just have to live with it.
Twenty-five years later, tinnitus continues to affect me. I constantly have to ask my husband and children to repeat what they have said – which can get very frustrating for us all.
I work as a teacher and in school tinnitus affects me too. It often makes it hard to hear what pupils are saying and I have to ask them to repeat themselves.
In 2017 my tinnitus became particularly bad. I stopped going to the staff room at break and lunch time for a whole year because I couldn’t hear the conversations people were having over my tinnitus. Sometimes, it becomes so loud and distracting that I don’t fall asleep until 2 or 3am, and then the next day I’m wrecked. It ends up as a very frustrating and exhausting cycle of not being able to sleep and waking tired, which can last for days or weeks at a time.
I went back to the GP who, thankfully, was much more understanding. He gave me some medication and sent another referral to ENT on my behalf. Unfortunately, this pending referral meant I couldn’t get my life insurance amended to offer appropriate cover when I moved house and I’m still waiting on this appointment nearly 24 months later.
My tinnitus is like a static, hissing noise that’s louder in my right ear than in my left. Sometimes it can get quite high pitched. One time I was at a local leisure centre with school. When we came out I heard what I thought was the fire alarm going off, and I couldn’t understand why people weren’t evacuating. It was only when I got on the bus that I realised it was in my head!
I often hear the opinion that ‘I’ve been to many concerts before and I have been fine’. I think it’s so important that people are raising awareness of the potential impact of listening to music at unsafe levels. I certainly wish I had known about the damage that music could cause - just one night out and you could end up living with tinnitus every minute of every day for the rest of your life.