Eddy Says

Eddy says: I have brain damage, and so could you

By | Published on Monday 14 February 2011

Tinnitus Awareness Week

This is a modified and expanded version of a blog post I wrote for the British Tinnitus Association last week as part of my involvement with Tinnitus Awareness Week. I want to make sure as many people as possible see it, so I’m doing a bit of a rewind here, albeit with a few extra scratches and added zing. Also, because a lot of people who look at the BTA site are from a generation that is very easily offended, my flowery language was edited out in that version. So think of this as the ‘director’s cut’.

Tinnitus Awareness Week is done and dusted for another year, so those with tinnitus can exhale, finally, and go back to that zone of deliberate unawareness. I’m sorry for making you more aware but I know you understand that the 90% of people lucky enough not to suffer this condition need to be informed.

Looking back on this year’s Tinnitus Awareness Week, I have mixed feelings.

On the positive side, there is an enormous amount of awareness of this condition, much more, I think, than before my tenure at the BTA. Certainly much much more than when I was young and the relationship between my ears and my brain was less dysfunctional. We have, once again, saved a lot of ears and brains by evangelising about proper ear protection, and we’ve seen some interesting new ideas in treatments and therapy to alleviate it.

Thanks to all of you who took the time and effort to get in touch with me about everything from hypnotherapy to Hopi Ear Candles! I’ve found out some interesting, and equally, horrifying things.

I learned that people are killing themselves because of tinnitus, and that the government refuses to recognise that it was the tinnitus that drove these poor, unfortunate people to an early grave. I discovered that deaf people can get it, so it is therefore not an ‘ear’ problem, as I’d thought, but a brain issue. There are people out there who asked for their auditory nerves to be cut – to become deaf – to get away from that constant noise in their ears, only to find when the operation had been done that they still had it.

But the week-long campaign has also put into focus how far we have to go. Tinnitus awareness never reached the so called Science Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. This ignorant bell-end still thinks tinnitus only affects old people. I read that in the Telegraph and almost wept. It’s a Neolithic point of view. OK, it’s a 1970s point of view, but you get my point. I wanted shake this moron by the lapels and introduce him to the children and teenagers I’ve met who will never hear silence again.

Some interesting questions have also come my way via Twitter this week. The most popular one is: “Do you think venues should impose sound limits?” I feel very strongly about this and want to restate, publicly, that I am one hundred percent AGAINST sound limits. I am against prohibition in general, as much as I am against censorship or castration. I see all these things in the same light. What I am FOR is knowledge and education. I just want people to make an informed decision, something I never had when I was growing up. I thought the ringing in my ears was part and parcel of the ‘going out to gigs’ experience. Nobody told me I could permanently damage my brain.

See? That sounds bad doesn’t it? ‘Damage my ears’ doesn’t sound so grave, certainly not bad enough for the government to do anything about it. That’s a fact. So is this: Tinnitus is a form of brain damage. There. I’ve said it. BRAIN DAMAGE. Just let those two words sink in.

If the civil servants making the decisions were informed of the facts, that it’s BRAIN DAMAGE we’re talking about, then perhaps we’d see less apathy and more action. One in ten people suffer from tinnitus, and this will rise because of the growth in popularity of MP3 players, live music and the like. I’m as sure that almost every person who I hear from the other end of a tube carriage, with their music so loud that I could dance to the beat of what’s leaking out from their earphones, has no idea that they could be causing themselves permanent brain damage. And we’ll get a spike in the figures from the thousands of soldiers who’ll come back from Afghanistan and Iraq with it.

One in ten young people are, according the government-funded advert I keep hearing on Xfm, at risk of chlamydia, something easily treatable. Yet tinnitus sufferers, surely a much worse condition than chlamydia, are ignored. More to the point, the people who DON’T have it are ignored, and without the knowledge, without the education, 10% of them will get it, and some of that 10% will either kill themselves as a result, or be so depressed that they will attempt suicide.

I’m not scare mongering or exaggerating here, I’ve talked to doctors whose tinnitus patients have killed themselves, and I’ve talked to other patients who have attempted to kill themselves. I’ve seen the stark, staring eyes of one of my favourite human beings, Tom Bellamy of Losers, with tears rolling down his cheeks, looking like he was about to throw himself under a bus after we played a gig in Reading. Tears well up in my eyes every time I remember that awful, helpless moment.

Let me attempt to illustrate the ridiculousness of the government’s position on this: How many people burn themselves seriously with a firework? If it was 10% of the population, the queues at A&E departments at every single hospital would stretch for miles, literally miles and miles of people. In fact, a tiny proportion of the population will ever suffer a firework burn, yet the government chooses to spend an enormous sum on multi-media advertising to remind us of the dangers each year.

Would it not be more intelligent, more caring and responsible to use some of the money allocated to these sorts of public information campaigns for educating people with the truth about tinnitus? That they can permanently damage their BRAIN just by walking into a pub, or a club, or a gig. Surely there must be a plaque, a sign, on display, next to the one that says ‘licenced to sell alcohol’ which reads ‘YOU CAN PERMANENTLY DAMAGE YOUR HEARING IF YOU DO NOT PROTECT YOURSELF IN THIS VENUE’. Is that really too much to ask?

Would a law that makes it the venue’s responsibility to supply earplugs for sale behind the bar make social and economic sense? I’m not talking about subsidy here, just make the venues have to have protection available if we want to buy it, and to let people know that they may need it.

A jar of those yellow or pink foam earplugs behind the bar, for a quid each, just in case people feel they need them. It’s not a big ask, is it?

Education and knowledge. That also means research to find out exactly what tinnitus is. Until we know, then all this talk about cures, therapies and so on is just pissing in the wind. You can’t find a cure for anything unless you know what it is in the first place.

Education, education, education. A well-meaning man said that once. Another one is saying: Education, legislation, research.

Please, I urge you, contact your MP and let them know how we feel about this. We are the one in ten and it’s time we were taken seriously.

With love and respect,