Waking up one morning with an annoyingly high buzzing sound, Jamie Laing wondered where it came from.
“I went around the house looking for it,” recalls Jamie, 31, star of the Channel 4 reality show Made In Chelsea and founder of the candy company Candy Kittens.
“But I couldn’t find anything that made the noise – and then I realized it came from within my head.
Jamie Laing, 31, star of the Channel 4 reality show Made In Chelsea and founder of the confectionery company Candy Kittens
“The sound was like a static buzz from a television in another room. When I started to hear it, the constant buzzing in my head continued. “
The intrusive noises disturbed Jamie so much that the next day he went to his doctor, who diagnosed tinnitus – the often debilitating feeling of hearing a sound that has no external source, affecting more than seven million Britons.
Some people hear ringing, others whizzing, buzzing or buzzing – even hear the sound of a jet engine, a drill or buzzing bees. It can be continuous or sporadic and has the potential to be debilitating.
“My doctor said there were a number of possible causes, but exposure to loud music in night clubs was the most likely in my case,” says Jamie, who dates with colleague Made in Chelsea star Sophie “Habbs” Habboo, 26.
“My doctor explained that there was no cure, but it would probably disappear if I was used to it. There were treatments available to help me come to terms with it, “Jamie said.
“At first I couldn’t believe I had tinnitus, I thought it only affected older people or people who were exposed to hard bangs – but it is more common than people think. I had been to festivals and concerts and listened to music on headphones – the louder the better when I was younger.
Jamie was so annoyed by the intrusive sound that the next day he went to his doctor, who diagnosed tinnitus. Pictured with Millie Mackintosh (left) at the Candy Kittens launch party in 2012
“But I would never have stood next to the speakers at concerts or in a band – I had probably been to a few too many festivals where the music was loud and never wore earplugs.
“I wish I had that now – protecting your ears from loud noise is so important.”
Tinnitus is in fact a symptom, not a condition – and there is always an underlying cause, explains John Phillips, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon consultant at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts.
“The most common cause is hearing loss – the less you can hear externally, the more you will hear internally when your brain turns on the central volume knob, meaning you hear things that you would not normally hear,” says Mr. Phillips, who also is a medical adviser to the British Tinnitus Association.
“It’s the brain’s way to fill in the gap that comes from the ears.” This is why tinnitus is most common in older people with age-related hearing loss.
But younger people may also experience hearing loss – and tinnitus – as a result of exposure to loud music, a noisy workplace or, less commonly, to the side effects of drugs, including certain antibiotics, chemotherapy, and aspirin in very high doses.
Even the hearing loss associated with earwax and ear infections can lead to ringing in the ears.
“We see fewer people with professional hearing damage due to the decline in heavy industry – but these are being replaced by people who listened to loud rock music in the 1960s and 1970s, and younger people who went to performances or listen to loud music on headphones, says Mr. Phillips.
“We know that children suffer from tinnitus: a study found that about 40 percent of children with glue ear reported ringing in their ears when asked.”
A common myth is that nothing can be done to help the condition. “There is no pill or surgery to repair tinnitus, but that does not mean there is no treatment at all,” says Phillips.
Treating hearing loss with a hearing aid can help relieve tinnitus symptoms “because this stops brain compensation by turning the volume knob and creating internal noise,” he adds.
More treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling to control stress levels – as stress worsens symptoms.
Tinnitus is in fact a symptom, not a condition – and there is always an underlying cause (file image)
Listening to distracting sounds, such as a radio, can also help.
The good news is that for the vast majority, symptoms will improve and sometimes disappear completely. But an estimated 0.5 percent of the British population (around 320,000 people) will have persistent tinnitus, which interferes with their daily lives.
However, their difficulties are not always taken seriously, suggests David Stockdale, chief executive of the British Tinnitus Association. “Everyone has probably heard in their ears at some point after having been to a loud concert or club, and therefore people consider tinnitus a short-term problem.
“But it is very different if it is a long-term, permanent problem that you have to live with.”
“It doesn’t help that when people see their doctor about tinnitus, they are often told to learn to live with it – which increases their anxiety levels, making the tinnitus worse.”
Mr. Stockdale said that an estimated one million GP appointments per year are due to tinnitus, “but there seems to be a real lack of awareness about treatments, both among GPs and among the public.”
NOW, four years later, Jamie’s tinnitus persisted, which led to a few dark days en route.
“The ringing in my ears made me anxious and depressed and the tinnitus got worse when I focused on it,” he says.
“In the worst case, it really interfered with daily life. Listening to the TV and having conversations was difficult and I struggled at work too. The more you think about it, the worse it gets until the tinnitus almost becomes deafening. “
He found the first six months after diagnosis particularly painful and slept with his phone with white noise to help him sleep. “There were times when I thought,” I don’t know how people get through this, “he says.” You have to do your work, see your friends and you have this distracting sound in your head all the time – it was very lonely. “
Jamie saw several doctors hopeful for a quick solution. However, once he accepted that there was no cure, he turned his attention to coping strategies.
A test revealed a slight hearing loss, but not enough to justify a hearing aid. So Jamie started using meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and sleep to relieve anxiety.
The age of aging: how parenthood influences your health
This week: Prostate cancer
Childless men have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer than fathers, a study found.
Research published in the journal Cancer in 2008 found that men without children were 16 percent less likely than men with children to get the disease.
Why fathers are at greater risk is unclear, although one theory is that men with fertility problems may have lower levels of hormones called androgens associated with the disease. Paradoxically, the risk of developing prostate cancer in fathers decreased as more children had a man.
Men who had twins, for example, were less likely than fathers of one child to develop prostate cancer. This is possibly because they have a healthier reproductive system and are generally in better health, the researchers said.
“It gets louder when I’m tired, stressed or anxious and so I have to manage it all, but I’m getting better,” he says.
“I also stopped caffeine because it frightened me, which seemed to increase tinnitus. I also use earplugs made to protect my ears from further damage from loud noise when I go to festivals or night clubs, “says Jamie.
“But the best advice I received was from a doctor who told me,” Jamie, I promise you this will get better. “
“Just hearing that made me less anxious and able to cope.”
That is why he wants to reassure others who have been affected.
“My message is that tinnitus is getting better: it may not disappear, but you will learn to deal with it. It’s just like any loud noise – whether it’s crickets in a hot country or air conditioning in a hotel room – after a while your brain gets used to it and blocks it. “
The British Tinnitus Association is campaigning for more money for research and to encourage people to wear filtered earplugs when exposed to loud noise, such as rock concerts (which can cause damage – without hearing protection – within minutes).
“Young people need to realize that they need to protect their ears,” Jamie warns. “Turn down your headphones, get earplugs and stay away from the shows. I really wish I had done it. “