Sudbury’s David Fiacconi spends every waking moment hearing a loud and consistent ring due to his severe tinnitus.
“At this level it’s a form of continuous torture,” he said.
In 2012, he had to leave his job as a camera operator for CTV because the constant noise made it impossible to concentrate on his work.
Fiacconi believes that job, in which he was constantly wearing headphones, contributed to his tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a common symptom of other underlying conditions, including age-related hearing loss, an ear injury, or a circulatory system disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic medical research group, tinnitus affects around one in five people.
For some people, the symptoms are mild, and can be ignored with the right distractions, but for Fiacconi they are severe, and affect his sleep. He said he averages two to four hours of continuous sleep every night, and might sleep six hours once a week.
One common cause of tinnitus is damage to the inner cells of the ear. Tiny and delicate hairs in the inner ear move in relations to the pressure of sound waves – which send signals to the brain which translates those vibrations into sound.
When the hairs are damaged, they can leak electrical pulses to the brain, which it perceives as the hissing, ringing or buzzing associated with tinnitus.
The hairs can be damaged by prolonged exposure to loud noises, like rock concerts, or short, but very loud noises like gun shots or explosions.
Tinnitus is more common with members of the military, for example.
Age-related hearing loss can also cause tinnitus.
But tinnitus can also be caused by chronic health conditions, and injuries or conditions that affect the nerves in a person’s ear or the hearing center in their brain.
Fiacconi said that while he had no trouble applying for his insurance benefits after he left his job, he had to jump through hoops, and hire a lawyer, to access the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit.
“Right away, they turn you down,” he said.
Because only he can perceive his tinnitus, he said the symptoms are often not taken seriously.
Since his diagnosis, he has spent $6,000 on hearing aids, which play zen music to mask the ringing, and travels to the Helix Hearing Care Clinic in Barrie on a regular basis for treatment.
Fiacconi uses noise conditioners, for example, which hum white noise, to help him ignore his tinnitus.
Sudbury has a higher than average number of people with tinnitus due to heavy industry, including mining, that exposes workers to loud noises on a regular basis, said Kim Scott, executive director for the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association’s Sudbury branch.
“Hearing loss is most common physical disability in Canada today,” Scott said. “It’s not getting any better. Our world is not getting quieter, it’s getting noisier.”
People over the age of 60 represent the largest age group with tinnitus and hearing loss, but symptoms have become more common in younger people, said Scott.
While not all people with tinnitus suffer from hearing loss, and vice versa, the two are often linked, she added.
Twice a year – in the spring and fall – Scott hosts a two-hour workshop to help people with tinnitus develop methods to deal with their symptoms.
The next workshop will be Wednesday, May 4, and starts at 7 p.m.
Due to popular demand the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association has informed Sudbury.com it has added a second workshop on Thursday, May 5, at 7 p.m. The Wednesday workshop is at capacity, but people can reserve spot for Thursday by calling 705-670-9823.
The free workshop will take place at the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association office in Sudbury, located at 435 Notre Dame Avenue, Suite 101.