I’m 46 years old and live with my wife and four children. I have been acutely aware of my tinnitus for about 10 years. I’ve been playing drums since the mid-80s and I didn’t use ear protection from the start. I started to use ear protection when I noticed that my hearing was taking a dip, but by then the bulk of the damage was done.
The tinnitus is a constant ringing in my ears which is worse when it’s quiet – it’s like a high-pitched whistling, like an electronic whine. I've referred to tinnitus as being the friend that never goes away. It hasn’t necessarily overtaken my life, but it does impede some of the conversations I have with people. I find I have to concentrate a bit more intently.
For example, if I’m in a busy restaurant with my family and I can hear things from other tables, or children crying, it does affect me. I tend to lose the ability to concentrate and I’m accused of zoning out but I genuinely find it really hard. There’s a bombardment of noise and obviously having tinnitus just doubles the effect. I can’t differentiate sometimes between sounds and someone trying to hold a conversation, and I’m completely distracted by what’s around me. For example, if I’m in the local supermarket, I find it hard if someone’s a bit close to me, trying to have a conversation, and there’s background noise. It does affect me greatly.
I think I definitely took my hearing for granted. I think if I knew then what I know now, I would definitely have worn ear protection. I wouldn't want anyone to go through the tinnitus that I endure. On a day-to-day basis I protect my ears religiously. Being a drummer, I'm going to be constantly up against loud noises and high-pitched frequencies, but I wear my ear protection. In my drum teaching I always wear ear protection; I'm fanatical about it now.
Looking back, it was only recently I thought “gosh, all the noise inside my helmet, motorway noise, that wouldn't have been helping matters at all”. And there I was, thinking my ears were safe in the helmet. I just didn’t think about it. I feel that I cheated myself, that it was probably stupidity and bravado. I was probably ill-informed. Back then, it’s not a million years ago, but I don’t think we were as well informed as we are now, with the advent of in-ear monitoring, reducing volume levels, decibel limitation and so on.
I think we’ve got to recognise that hearing is not going to last for that long. If you're going to subject it to pneumatic drills or drums or aeroplanes or motorbikes, you’ve got to protect your ears.