Tinnitus is an occupational hazard fo musicians, which is why Chris Martin and Will.I.Am are recording an album to raise awareness.
Noel Gallagher recently revealed he suffers from an annoying whine in his ear. No, not his brother Liam – it’s tinnitus, caused by 20 years of cranking up the volume.
Many music fans will be familiar with that ringing sensation in the head after a rock concert; for most this is a temporary inconvenience. Not, though, for 52-year-old Robert McIndoe from Sydenham, Kent, who stabbed himself to death in November 2011, after a concert at Brixton 18 months earlier left him with such bad tinnitus he was unable to sleep. The tragedy was a personal wake-up call: it shocked me into buying ear plugs, after 20 years of going to gigs as both a music journalist and performer had left me with a constant whistling in my right ear.
Tinnitus is an occupational hazard for musicians. Beethoven complained “my ears whistle and buzz all day and night”, and Coldplay singer Chris Martin, Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas and Embrace’s Danny McNamara rank among many artists who live with it. Now that trio are to feature on an album, I Am the One in Ten, which aims to raise awareness about a condition that afflicts not just rock stars, but 10 per cent of the population.
“I came home after a tour and thought something was wrong with the fridge – then I put my fingers in my ear and it got worse,” recalls McNamara. “It was a scary moment because I feared I could be blighted for the rest of my life. After six months, I learnt there are ways of coping with it.”
Eddy Temple-Morris, a radio DJ and ambassador for the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), who is putting the album together, aims to assemble an entire team of people with tinnitus to make it – from the artists to the label manager, rights lawyer, designer, publicist and plugger.
“Tinnitus doesn’t just affect whingeing rock stars,” he says. Particularly at risk, because of exposure to loud noise, are those in the Armed Forces, construction workers and “a generation of iPod users”.
Tinnitus is described as the perception of noise in the absence of any outside source, and usually leads to ringing, buzzing, humming or whistling sounds. A common cause is inner-ear damage, which results in random signals being created by the brain’s auditory cells. In older people, this can be due to natural hearing loss, but in the young it is often linked to excessive noise.
In most cases there is no cure, although sound therapy – which involves filling the silence with external sounds to distract from the tinnitus – can help. A promising new therapy, Acoustic Coordinated Reset, involves playing to sufferers through headphones the same tone that they “hear” in their mind, which seems to stop the brain’s auditory cells in their tracks. Cognitive behavioural therapy also enables sufferers to cope better by reducing anxiety about the condition.
“Tinnitus is not as disastrous as it first seems,” says John Phillips, consultant ENT surgeon at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals and a BTA adviser. “People need reassuring that it won’t be like that forever. Everyone is different, so for one person tinnitus is a mild annoyance, but to another it’s a source of depression and anxiety.”
Forty years after David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album appeared with the advice: “To Be Played At Maximum Volume”, perhaps I Am the One in Ten, when it is released later this year, should carry the warning: “Avoid Playing Too Loud”.