When Gareth Malone started hearing ringing sounds after recovering from a sinus infection, it took him a while to realise it was coming from inside his own ear.
“There was a ringing in my right ear, really quiet and I didn’t really notice at first. Then I kept thinking, ‘I’m sure there’s a fridge buzzing or something’, just a very high-pitched squeak,” recalls the TV choirmaster, 46, who has three children with wife Becky. “Eventually, I turned all the electricals off in the house and thought, ‘Ah ok, it’s inside my ear’.”
Tinnitus – when you hear sounds such as buzzing, ringing and hissing, which have no external source – is actually quite common. About 30% of people will experience it at some point, according to the British Tinnitus Association, with approximately 13% of UK adults living with persistent tinnitus.
It’s often unclear why it affects some people more than others, although it’s associated with a number of causes, including hearing loss, ear infections, ear wax build-up and stress, as well as exposure to loud noises (people who work in noisy environments can be more at risk). And although it’s generally rare for tinnitus to be linked with serious underlying issues, as Malone notes, it “can sometimes be the first sign of something sinister”.
For the London-born TV personality, who has been helping people hone their singing voices on shows such as The Choir since the mid-Noughties, his hearing is arguably his most essential tool, and at the heart of his musical passions and identity (he also writes music and plays piano). So, as soon as he realised he had tinnitus, he went to see his doctor. “I found myself having an MRI scan and seeing a consultant, really quite quickly – they were brilliant. And I had all the hearing tests done,” he recalls.
Thankfully, nothing sinister was found. “And there was nothing too wrong with my hearing, but just this one frequency that is damaged, and that’s why I’d got the ringing. The consultant didn’t know whether this was from having my mobile phone too loud, my Walkman when I was younger, or whether it was the sinus infection – who knows?”
Malone has now teamed up with Specsavers, highlighting the importance of taking care of our hearing. The high-street chain offers a range of hearing services, including hearing tests, ear wax removal and hearing aids, alongside general advice.
Even if there’s nothing medically serious going on, tinnitus can have a significant impact. Often, it’s something that comes and goes and doesn’t cause too much trouble. But particularly when it’s persistent, it can be very distressing, and affect things like quality of life and sleep.
There are things which …….