Andrew’s story | British Tinnitus Association

Andrew Smith acquired tinnitus as a result of a severe ear infection. Here he shares how the condition affects him and his family.

I’ve had tinnitus since May 2018. It was the result of a severe infection in my left inner ear which was diagnosed as labyrinthitis. The illness caused damage to the hair cells in my cochlear and as a result I suffered irreparable severe hearing loss and associated tinnitus.

Like a distant jet engine

I had experienced a mild form of tinnitus a few times before, but this had always cleared by the following morning. Initially I didn’t identify the noise in my ear as being tinnitus. The pain and other symptoms were so severe that it took me a while to even realise that I had it! In my case the sound is always a ‘rushing’ noise – like a distant jet engine. It is constant but varies in volume and is sometimes accompanied by other sounds – distant church bells being one.

Muddled and forgetful

At the time of the onset, I had retired but was continuing to work part-time for a friend. Unfortunately, I found the labyrinthitis symptoms – not least the tinnitus – caused me to become muddled and forgetful when carrying out relatively simple tasks and I resigned from my role. I felt resentful that my tinnitus had prevented me from continuing in a job which I had found enjoyable.

The combination of tinnitus and deafness sometimes causes me to feel irritable and short-tempered. This can obviously have a negative effect on family life. As understanding as my wife is, she also has to live with it through me, and I know that isn’t easy for her.

I attended the A & E department of our local hospital when my symptoms became really acute, but I didn’t feel the seriousness of my condition was recognised by the clinician. I visited my GP a few days after this and he was able to get me a prompt appointment with an ENT consultant, who told me that I was suffering from severe ‘classic’ labyrinthitis.

The damage had been done

Following examination, he said that my hearing may improve slightly with time but really the damage had been done. Up to this point, I had assumed the tinnitus and the hearing loss was part of the acute phase which would improve as part of the healing process. So, the consultant’s rather final tone came as quite a shock.

Although the symptoms of my condition were discussed, the tinnitus element didn’t seem to figure to any great extent. It was only when I went to be assessed for a hearing aid by an audiologist that it was suggested this may also help to reduce the tinnitus.

The consultant referred me to a Hearing Therapist, and I have continued to have contact with her for over two years although our sessions have had to be by phone for more than a year due to Covid-19.

Having time to talk 

Having time to talk to someone with knowledge of tinnitus has most definitely been helpful. A range of techniques to help me live with my tinnitus have been discussed, including relaxation, when it may not be helpful to wear a hearing aid, and habituation (a rather important sounding word that means “getting used to it”).

My Hearing Therapist suggested that I join the BTA. I found the information helpful: it was important for me to know that many other people were having similar experiences to mine. I would certainly encourage anyone who has tinnitus to join the association.

Working hard

From what I have read, many people with tinnitus have experienced a dismissive response from health professionals, and the BTA is working hard to turn this around. It is often difficult when you feel that you’re a lone voice to make that voice heard.

I felt quite hopeless when the full impact of my condition became clear, and I am pleased with what I have achieved since. An enjoyable and absorbing activity certainly helps me to deal with tinnitus. Just how well I do deal with it varies a lot – the pandemic has certainly not helped. I feel my experience of the last three years has been mixed: it would have been helpful if it had been explained that hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus. Talking about it to someone who understands most definitely helped me.

When tinnitus is first experienced, it can so easily cause someone to feel helpless, hopeless and desperate, but there are ways in which help can be effectively provided. I feel the BTA is doing a good job in helping to provide support where it matters.

Tackling tinnitus by yourself can be daunting and can make you feel isolated and alone. The British Tinnitus Association can offer support through our freephone helpline, email, SMS/text and web chat services. Our tinnitus support team has many years of experience supporting people with tinnitus and all our support services are free. 

You can access the British Tinnitus Association’s support services via: 

Freephone helpline: 0800 018 0527  

Web chat: www.tinnitus.org.uk  

Email: [email protected]   

Text/SMS: 07537 416841 

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