Nathaniel, 25, never realised that ringing in his ears as a teenager after gigs was a warning sign – or that it might cause permanent tinnitus. Now he always uses earplugs in noisy places.
“I’ve always been a massive music fan and spent most weekends as a teenager either going to gigs or playing guitar in my band, Breichiau Hir.
When I was 18, I went along to see a band called Periphery in concert. I was stood right at the front, near the speaker, without any ear protection, and on the way home I had ringing in my ears.
At first, I didn’t pay too much attention to it – I’d often get ringing after a night out. I just assumed it would go away like it had before. But this time it didn’t. By the evening it was still there and the following day too. After a few days of constant ringing, I went to see my GP who quickly diagnosed me with tinnitus. When he told me that it was most likely to be permanent, I was crushed. I couldn’t believe this was something I would have to live with – forever.
What was most upsetting was that he told me my tinnitus was probably the cumulative effect of loud music and no hearing protection. Going to gigs, playing in my rock band – practising for hours in a small noisy room with no ear protection – all of these would’ve played a part.
It took me about three years before I properly came to terms with it, with the slow, grinding realisation that it wasn’t going away. I am still not OK with it, but I’ve had to try and learn to cope. But there’s never a moment in my day when tinnitus isn’t with me. It isn’t usually very loud – but it’s there. I’ve noticed that noisy environments make it worse but it’s actually when I’m in a quiet room that I hear it the most – it’s quite jarring. I have only slight hearing loss, but I often struggle to hear small sounds over the tinnitus.
I also find it hard to ‘switch off’ and go to sleep like I used to, as I’m distracted by the noises inside my head.
I’m now a lot more conscious about protecting my hearing and everywhere I go I carry a pair of custom-fit earplugs so I can pop them in if it gets too noisy. I also wear them at gigs and at band practice, and I’ve persuaded my band members to follow suit.
I wish now that I’d done more to protect my hearing when I was younger. But I was youthfully arrogant about it. I just didn’t realise that ringing in my ears might be a warning sign – or that it might be there forever.”