Hearing Damage And Tinnitus In Emergency Responders

Robert M. Winston shares the results of his research on the need for hearing protection by firefighters and other emergency responders.


I have hearing damage and tinnitus that has been documented as an occupational injury caused by high-decibel sounds directly related to on-the-job noise generators like sirens, air horns, diesel motors, loud radios and power tools, and high-decibel fire alarm systems inside buildings. I was an...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

I have hearing damage and tinnitus that has been documented as an occupational injury caused by high-decibel sounds directly related to on-the-job noise generators like sirens, air horns, diesel motors, loud radios and power tools, and high-decibel fire alarm systems inside buildings.

I was an employee of the Boston Fire Department for 32 years and retired with a non-disability pension in October 2001. I first noticed a tinnitus sound in the early 1980s. This was reported and documented. The tinnitus sound gradually became louder over the years. (Tinnitus may be pronounced tin-NIGHT-us or TIN-nit-tus; either is correct.)

It was on a cold winter's night in December 1999 that I was the incident commander at a structure fire. As I stood at the front of the structure directing operations, an engine pulled up beside me with its electronic siren blaring into my left ear. The officer and the pump operator exited the engine and no one silenced that siren for about a minute. When I returned to quarters after the termination of the incident, I noticed that the tinnitus sound was much louder than it had ever been before. It did not stop, and I filled out an injury report.

The tinnitus was relentless and soon caused me to go into a depression that put me out of commission and on injured leave. I lost over 20 pounds in three weeks due to a loss of appetite. I looked pretty good, but that was not the way to diet! I developed tremors. The drugs prescribed by a physician only made my condition worse. I soon realized that I was heading into a black hole.

Thankfully, I found a hearing and tinnitus clinic in New Haven, CT, where my condition was accurately evaluated and I found help from compassionate caregivers. I was put on a long term care program called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, or TRT. The TRT, family support and prayer saved me and brought me back to physical and emotional health over many months' time. During that time, I had several minor relapses, but I stayed the course of TRT until tinnitus became almost a non-issue to me. Today, I still have tinnitus, as there is no "cure" for this condition. I still have days and nights when the tinnitus sound is bothersome. However, I am better able to cope and I have many good days and good nights. Yet, the battle is never fully over, and people who have tinnitus and are coping are called "tinnitus survivors."

An Overview Of Tinnitus

From the American Tinnitus Association (ATA): Tinnitus is a subjective experience where one hears a sound or sounds when no external sound is present. Some call it "head-noises" or "ear-ringing." The word "tinnitus" is from a Latin word meaning "to ring like a bell" (no pun intended to firefighters). There are many causes of tinnitus (and hearing damage); i.e., overproduction of ear wax, acoustic tumors, and disorders of the head, neck and jaw. Pulsatile tinnitus can be caused by blood vessel abnormalities, certain medications and excessive use of aspirin, carbon monoxide (CO) and other gases; and exposure to loud sounds on the job or recreationally (such as listening to loud music or shooting a gun).

According to the paper "Historical Aspects of Tinnitus," there are documented cases of tinnitus treatments throughout history, the earliest dating back to ancient Egypt. Sedative medication was used for tinnitus in the Roman period. Aristotle and Hippocrates mentioned tinnitus in their writings.

Recent statistics gathered in the U.S. depict a serious problem with tinnitus. Two million people are debilitated by tinnitus, 10 million experience a significant problem and 32 million experience tinnitus, but are not bothered by it. It is also a problem of aging ears - 30% of Americans above age 65 have tinnitus.

The auditory (hearing), limbic and autonomic nervous systems and the cortex of the brain are among the systems interacting to produce the tinnitus sound or signal. Forms of excitement, stress and tension, too much caffeine or alcohol, and the human body's adrenaline can exacerbate the tinnitus sound as can loud external sources of noise.

This content continues onto the next page...