I am a common type of being – a musician with tinnitus.

For those that don’t know, tinnitus is a constant noise in the ears, usually in the form of a high-pitched buzz.  You know when you come back from a loud night out and your ears are going ”eeeeeeee”?

Yeah, that.  But permanent.

It’s not a nice condition, the main issues with it being that it never stops and there’s not really anything that can be done about it.  Most doctors don’t take it seriously and there is no cure.

My last appointment at the hospital was with a consultant (who, amazingly, had the Wikipedia page for Hitler up on his computer monitor).  He looked in my ear and said it looked fine but as a precaution maybe I should stay away from any reasonably loud music.  When I told him music was my living, he looked mildly amused and said slowly, “in which case, you’d better stop eating cheese”.


For me, tinnitus came about partly through illness (an infection leading to a perforated eardrum when I was 7) and partly through my own fault (playing drums very loudly indeed when I was a teenager).

The noise in my left ear was always there after playing gigs or rehearsals but as I got to my late teens I started to notice that it was staying round constantly.  It started to affect my concentration and I found it hard to get to sleep.  At that point I started to wear earplugs which prevented any further damage until one day at a rehearsal I stood next to a PA speaker just as someone switched it on with the volume turned up; the resulting one-second blast of feedback ensured that my left ear would forever complain.

I always tell young musicians to use earplugs and be extra careful.  Tinnitus is no fun and when it gets really loud it can ruin the experience of listening to music.  And no one wants that.

A few facts:

  • Although there is no cure, there are forms of therapy that some claim to help.  You can also buy white noise generators which train your brain to tune out of the frequencies tinnitus creates.
  • Listening to music through headphones can be just as damaging to your ears as standing next to a drum kit.
  • Loads of famous people have tinnitus, from Bono to Beethoven.  Here’s a list.
  • If you’re in the UK, the British Tinnitus Association can help.
  • Tinnitus doesn’t necessarily indicate impaired hearing.  For example, the hearing in my left ear is still as good as the hearing in my right.  But if you are experiencing hearing loss, more information can be found at Action On Hearing Loss.


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By Ben Haynes