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“I would fall asleep with music blasting in my ear”

Waleed developed tinnitus in his left ear after falling asleep with his headphones on. A local support group has helped him to manage.

“I remember vividly the day my tinnitus plunged into my life. It was a wet Monday morning and I was at my desk at work when, out of nowhere, there was a high-pitched ringing in my right ear. The noise was so acute it was almost painful. I thought it would just go away, but it didn’t. I went to see the doctor, who said he thought it was caused by the flu which I’d had the week before and that it would go away. But it didn’t. At first, I found it unbearable to cope with. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with palpitations – because it was still there – which is so distressing.

I started to listen to music to block it out. I’d wear my headphones during the day at work and I’d play tunes to help me fall asleep. But often I’d drop off with the music playing, only to find I’d turned up the volume accidentally, and I’d wake up with Eminem blaring out in my ears. Unfortunately, I think this reckless behaviour triggered tinnitus in my left ear, which hadn’t been there before.

Now I have a constant high-pitched noise in both ears that I can only describe as the sound of a heart-rate monitor flat-lining. It’s much worse in my right ear but present in my left ear too, at a slightly different pitch. The tinnitus is accompanied by high-frequency hearing loss too, which means I struggle to hear soft sounds.

Being diagnosed with tinnitus gave me a huge sense of loss. I had perfect hearing before but I often can’t hear over the tinnitus. It gets louder in stressful scenarios, especially at work. I’m a wheelchair user who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy, so my stress levels are high anyway and it’s definitely made them worse. The tinnitus is loudest when I’m lying down, so almost deafening on waking. Once I’m up, and drink a coffee, it does subside.

I think there’s very little knowledge out there about tinnitus and how debilitating it can be. People just don’t understand how hard it is to live with, especially in noisy situations. I must admit I am getting more used to it, and try to manage it by talking about the problem with my family, audiologists and groups like Action on Hearing Loss to get the proper advice I felt I needed. Last year I also joined the Cambridge Tinnitus Support Group, and I did find it useful to share experiences and talk to others who understood what I was going through. I’m careful to turn the music off before going to sleep now, I don’t listen to it at work anymore and I try and regulate my sleep patterns as I think this sometimes helps. I hope that it may improve over time.”

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