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...


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Janice A. Howard, MA, CCC-A, of the New England Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Center in Hamden, CT, states: "Tinnitus can interfere with sleep, concentration and the overall enjoyment of life. Ten to 12 million people in the U.S.A. are severely affected by it.

"There are numerous causes of tinnitus including, but not limited to, hearing loss, a blow to the head, whiplash injury, noise exposure (either a sudden loud noise or a noise of prolonged duration) and physical or emotional stress. Firefighters are at great risk for damage to the ear from sounds of sufficient intensity. Some siren sounds can be measured at approximately 120 decibels. Repeated exposure to sounds greater than 85 decibels can cause structural damage to the inner ear resulting in permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

"At present, there is no known cure for tinnitus. However, at the New England Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Center we are employing a method called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) that was developed by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff of Atlanta, GA. This treatment consists of educational counseling and sound therapy via a small in-the-ear device that emits a low-level broad-band sound (white noise) that mixes and blends with the tinnitus signal creating a contrast within the auditory system. This coupled with educational and cognitive counseling sessions leads to 'tinnitus habituation' as a result of TRT. For a majority of the time, the patient is no longer aware of the tinnitus, but can still perceive it if he or she consciously focuses on it. The tinnitus signal is still present, but it is blocked from the conscious part of the brain's cortex. The TRT takes approximately two years and has an 80% success rate. Upon completion of the TRT program, most patients are able to resume a normal life pattern."

Here are some recommendations to help you if you have hearing damage and/or tinnitus:

  • Contact an ENT physician who is educated about tinnitus.
  • Go on-line and use the key word "tinnitus." You'll be surprised at the number of websites that are available. A word of caution when you do this: There are enterprising people out there who make claims of a "cure" for tinnitus and they want your money.
  • Contact the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) at 800-634-8978 or click onto its website, www.ata.org, and consider becoming a member. The ATA offers a large amount of reliable information to those with tinnitus.

    According to recent news from the ATA, "The ATA received requests from U.S. congressional committees to give expert written testimony on a bill under consideration. The Veterans Hearing Loss Compensation Act mentioned tinnitus specifically as a condition for veteran disability compensation. Through deliberations, senators and representatives gained a much greater understanding of tinnitus, including its impact on the 50 million Americans with tinnitus, its causes including excessive noise exposures…and the critical need for tinnitus research."

  • TRT worked for me. It may work for you. Most TRT clinics can be located through the Internet. There are clinics in New Haven, CT; Baltimore, MD; Atlanta, GA; Orlando, FL; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR and other locations in the United States,
  • Contact the IAFF in Washington, D.C. and request the booklet Fire and Emergency Service Hearing Conservation Program. IAFF Resolution Number 86 outlines the Health Hazard Evaluation and recommendations for reducing hearing damage to firefighters.

Years ago, not a lot of research was being conducted to find a cause and a cure for tinnitus. Thankfully, that has changed dramatically. More funding is available and more research is going on now than ever before to find a control and a cure for tinnitus. Yet, so much more needs to be accomplished to end the suffering of those that are afflicted.

Editor's note: Contributing Editor Robert M. Winston first wrote about his experiences with tinnitus in a Chief Concerns column in the November 2000 issue. Since then, he has conducted extensive research on the topic and tested various recommended remedies. Many other firefighters who suffer from tinnitus have contacted Bob to relate their experiences and to ask him to share his findings. As a result, he has prepared this follow-up report and will present a seminar on the topic at Firehouse World, Feb. 18-20 in San Diego.