Exposure to high levels of noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear and bring about hearing difficulties. Such damage can also bring on or make worse a condition known as Tinnitus (although some people can develop the condition without ever having worked in noise and sometimes the condition is not in fact related to a person’s past noise exposure).
Tinnitus is a sound which is experienced by the sufferer when there is no external source for that sound, other people cannot hear it, a form of phantom noise in the sufferer’s head.
The types of sounds heard by Tinnitus sufferers include buzzing, ringing and hissing.
The sounds can be experienced occasionally and not cause too many problems, but in the case of a small percentage of sufferers they can experience the sounds in their head most or all of the time which can be very distressing and can cause sleep disturbance and, in very serious cases, depression.
The sounds tend to be more apparent in quiet surroundings, as when there are external sources of noise present (such as music or conversation) they can take the sufferer’s mind off of the Tinnitus. Accordingly, when reading or trying to sleep, the noises are at their most intrusive.
There is no pill which can resolve a person’s Tinnitus as not a great deal is known about the precise mechanisms of the condition, namely how it comes about and how it can be resolved. When we hear, sound travels into the ear and then the hearing nerves take the signals to the brain. The brain is then responsible for putting it all together and making sense of the sound. Because the ears don’t know what’s important and what’s not, they send a lot of information to the brain. This is too much information for us to process, so the brain filters out a lot of unnecessary ‘activity’ and background sound, such as clocks ticking or traffic noise. If there is a change in the system, for example, a hearing loss or ear infection, the amount of information being sent to the brain changes. The brain then responds to this change in levels by trying to get more information from the ear, and the extra information you may get is the sound we call tinnitus. The tinnitus is therefore actually brain activity and not the ear itself!
Treatment is usually in the form of a hearing aid which allows those also suffering from hearing loss to be able to appreciate more external sounds and thereby take their mind off of the Tinnitus; and/or a masker which is a device which generates varied types of sounds into the ear which are designed to counter the sound of the Tinnitus.
If you are troubled by Tinnitus and you have been exposed to noise in the workplace, then the two may be related and it is worth speaking with us at Eldred Law to see if a claim for damages can be made. From a self-help point of view, it may be worth contacting the British Tinnitus Association (www.tinnitus.org.uk) who have more information on the condition and who have pockets of groups around the country where sufferers can come together and share different coping techniques which you may benefit from.