Of all the problems an audiologist in Huddersfield may deal with, tinnitus is one of the most distressing. While a hearing aid can correct hearing loss, tinnitus is not a problem of not hearing something, but of having a constant noise in the ear, which can range from buzzing or humming to a whooshing sound.
As a condition, it can range from irritating to thoroughly distressing, depending on its severity and persistence, with the potential to diminish sleep, disrupt concentration or cause anxiety and depression. Around one in seven adults suffer from it.
All these are good reasons to get it treated if you suffer from it, as well as taking steps to prevent the condition occurring where possible. Causes can include infections, Meniere’s disease, hearing loss and some forms of medication.
However, another way to get tinnitus involves an activity one would not normally associate with hearing loss – gardening.
Tinnitus UK has issued a press release in the run-up to the Chelsea Flower Show (May 22nd-27th) urging gardeners to be wary about the dangers posed by mowing the lawn, trimming the hedge or using power tools. It has advised that ear protection should be worn to prevent possible hearing damage of a kind that could lead to tinnitus symptoms.
At first, it might come as a surprise to think that using power tools outdoors would have such an impact, as sound can dissipate more than if it is being generated in a confined indoor space.
But Tinnitus UK warns it remains a danger and warns that with research showing only 26 per cent of gardeners habitually covering their ears, around four million people are putting themselves at risk.
The organisation said noise becomes risky at 80 decibels or higher, but petrol-driven lawnmowers can reach 95 decibels, while power washers of the sort used to clean patios can hit 94. Hedge trimmers are noisier still, at up to 103 decibels. That is enough to cause hearing damage or tinnitus in just eight minutes.
Chief executive officer of Tinnitus UK Caroline Savage said: “Noise exposure is the single biggest preventable cause of tinnitus, and it is clear from our research that people appear to be unaware of the risks.”
She added: “Even if you’re only giving your hedge a quick trim or the patio a spruce up, use hearing protection.”
Given the benefits for mental and physical health that come from gardening, Ms Savage said nobody should miss out on the good that it brings. But that should not be at the expense of anyone’s hearing. “There should be no stigma around using ear plugs; we only have one pair of ears, and damage to our hearing is irreversible,” she emphasised.
Work to understand tinnitus better is ongoing. Tinnitus UK and the Royal National Institute of the Deaf have co-sponsored a research project into the origins of chronic tinnitus.
Instead of focusing on those who have an established long-term condition, it is working with people who have only started having a problem in the previous four weeks, to study whether new clues can be gleaned at such an early stage of what leads to chronic tinnitus.