Emma Chambers (34), a biomedical scientist from Bristol, has lived with tinnitus ever since being in primary school but in recent years, as her condition deteriorated and with two small children to look after, she really struggled to cope. Here, as part of the British Tinnitus Association’s Share Your Sound campaign, Emma talks about her experience of living with tinnitus and how the support of her GP has really made a positive difference in helping her lead a normal life again.
I remember being in year 3 at primary school and hearing noises in my head but it wasn’t until I was 18 that all the pieces finally fitted together and I was diagnosed with tinnitus. Throughout this time and during my 20s, the condition was manageable as it came and went. I would have attacks that would last a few days but it would eventually fade and my hearing would go back to normal.
But in 2012, after I’d had my first child, things started to get worse as my tinnitus was now constant and I was also suffering from dizziness and vertigo. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, a rare condition that affects the inner ear, which was not pleasant in itself but it was also having a really negative impact on my tinnitus.
Tinnitus was suddenly a massive issue for me and it became overwhelming as it was starting to impact my everyday life but luckily I had a really supportive GP who listened to me and understood the effect it was having. I was immediately referred to ENT and there I spoke to an audiologist for advice about my tinnitus but also prescribed medication to control my Menieres disease which did reduce the noises I was hearing.
My GP also offered to liaise with my occupational health department at work because there were a number of areas I was struggling with in my work place environment. There is a lot of background noise and the humming of one particular freezer was exactly the same pitch as my tinnitus so it was all I could hear. I also couldn’t hear my pager and it was difficult for me to use the phone. Luckily my employer was very understanding and made adjustments such as giving me a vibrating pager and the option to swap tasks with colleagues if the tinnitus was bad enough to make it difficult for me to complete certain tasks such as covering the main telephone.
Turn for the worse
My tinnitus slowly became more manageable but after I had my second baby in 2015, things took a drastic turn as the noise in my left ear became so loud that I was completely deaf in that ear – tinnitus was the only sound I could hear. I was on maternity leave and my husband works shifts so I would be alone with my children but I couldn’t hear when my two month old baby woke up in the night which made me feel very anxious. I also wasn’t able to sleep and would survive on a little as two to four hours sleep a night and then have to be in charge of two small children. My husband was incredible as he had to carry on working but also support me with the kids at the same time. We are extremely fortunate to have family locally that can help us. A local deaf charity organised for me to have a vibrating baby monitor which was a massive relief and took some of the immediate anxiety away but the tinnitus continued.
It was a horrendous and very worrying time, and of course stress makes the symptoms so much worse, so I went back to my GP and again he couldn’t have been more understanding. As he explained, there is no cure for tinnitus but there are self-help techniques that you can do to make a difference. They don’t work for everyone so you just have to find what’s right for you.
Finding what works
For me, a low salt and no caffeine diet is helpful, and because I have another hearing condition Meniere’s disease, if I can keep that under control my tinnitus is generally improved. I also try to distract myself as much as possible from the noise I hear by singing and humming so I’m not focusing on the tinnitus all the time. Engrossing myself in a good book is a good way for me to relax and keep my mind off the noise. All these little steps have played a part in turning things around which has had a really positive impact on my quality of life.
I do find that people just don’t understand tinnitus, they can’t see it so they just don’t get it. People don’t understand how debilitating it can be, but with the support of my GP, ENT consultant, family, friends and work colleagues, I feel I’ve come a long way and my tinnitus is now manageable.
And that’s why I’m backing the BTA’s Share Your Sound campaign because with the right people around you, it is possible to have a normal life living with tinnitus. Talk about it to your friends and family, get in touch with the BTA and most importantly, see your GP so they can signpost you to those who can help.
To find out more about Share Your Sound and to download a GP tinnitus support pack to share with your GP, please visit www.tinnitus.org.uk/sys.
For tinnitus support, please visit the British Tinnitus Association’s website: www.tinnitus.org.uk.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out 7 things deaf people want you to know!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- Eyewitness Media: TV and film from a Deaf perspective
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Hearing Choices: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people