Arthur’s story: “We fear being labelled as disabled”

During 34 years active service in the British Army I was constantly exposed to noise from all types of weapons.

Initially, our standard ear protection was “Mark 1 Fingers” inserted in our ears, later progressing to cotton wool balls, then foam ear plugs that often got stuck and had to be removed by the doctor.

Over time I became aware of an almost constant ringing in my ears. However, like all the other “tough” soldiers I never discussed it for fear of being found out, which would rapidly lead to a medical discharge.

Moreover, we all feared that this would have an effect on our future employability outside the Army.

My tinnitus was almost constantly present. During the day it was possible to ignore it but in the evenings it was so loud that it prevented me from falling asleep. As a result I always slept with the radio or TV on to drown out the noise.

Recently, I picked up a leaflet about research into tinnitus in the reception of the medical centre at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where I now live alongside 290 other Chelsea Pensioners. Having read it I felt motivated to get in touch because I didn’t need to go through my doctor. During the subsequent interview with Georgina, I realised that I was talking to someone who was very knowledgeable about tinnitus but also willing to listen to my experience. She explained everything to me in layman’s terms and advised me about the various things that could be done to relieve my tinnitus.

This gave me the courage to speak to my GP, who arranged an appointment with an audiologist.

They detected only a moderate hearing loss but encouraged me to try hearing aids. Again, the explanations were given in terms that I could understand. During the subsequent appointment to fit the hearing aids I was very impressed by the time taken to adjust the settings to match my particular requirements.

I couldn’t believe the improvement in my hearing. For the next few days, I kept thinking that I was being followed because for the first time in years I could hear my own footsteps! I also noticed that I didn’t have to ask people to repeat what they said and others noticed that my voice was not so loud.

Now, I can honestly say that most of the time I do not have tinnitus. I sleep so well that I forget all about it. Sometimes I forget to put my hearing aids in. However, after a day without them, the tinnitus returns. It feels as though when my hearing is reduced my brain is searching for every sound, including the tinnitus, but when my hearing is normal it doesn’t.

The most important message that I would like to give to GPs and hearing specialists is how to approach and advise old soldiers like me. We fear being labelled as disabled. Most of us are not willing to admit to having tinnitus or we just accept it as “par for the course”. It will take gentle persuasion to convince them that correcting their hearing loss and other measures can make tinnitus much less of a problem. And I would like to thank everyone involved in this research project for giving me the opportunity to participate, which has resulted in such a big improvement in my quality of life.

Photo: Arthur Currie with Dr Georgie Burns-O’Connell

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