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12 years of tinnitus ‘hell’: Barbecue businessman speaks out about living with ‘isolating’ condition

Scott Fraser, director of Angus & Oink, has lived with tinnitus for 12 years.
Scott Fraser, director of Angus & Oink, has lived with tinnitus for 12 years.

For the last 12 years, Inverurie businessman Scott Fraser has been plagued with a constant high-pitched “squeal” coming from inside his ear.

Affecting his ability to drift off to sleep and the activities he carries out at work, tinnitus has made his life “hell”.

And now the 47-year-old has chosen to speak out about his experience to mark Tinnitus Awareness Week.

Around one in three people will develop the condition at some point during their lives, with around one in eight dealing with persistent symptoms.

It is not known exactly what causes tinnitus, but seems to be triggered by a change in how the brain receives signals from the ear.

This leads it to asking for extra information about what a person is hearing, which results in the phantom sounds.

These can manifest as a ringing, humming or buzzing sound and, in some rare cases, even pieces of music.

Mr Fraser, the director of barbecue business Angus and Oink, first became aware of his tinnitus when working abroad 12 years ago.

He said: “I’ve always worked in noisy environments in the oil and gas industry, as well as in music, which might have contributed to the onset of tinnitus.

“I also remember one particular instance when I was on a plane to South America.

“I put on my headphones to listen to music and the volume was turned up far too loud.

“It left a noise in my ear and I wondered then if it had done some damage.”

Since then, Mr Fraser’s tinnitus has gradually worsened over time.

He said: “Sometimes it’s low and you can barely hear it, but other times it’s completely invasive.

“It rules your head and you can’t turn it off. It drives you mad.

“It is especially bad at night, which has meant I struggle to sleep.

“The noises are in your head so it’s very difficult to convey to others just how bad it can be.

“It is very isolating.”

Mr Fraser has also found that certain sounds, such as the noise from a tape gun at work, can worsen his symptoms.

‘Life-saving’ treatment

Eight months ago he found his tinnitus becoming “unbearable” – and was fitted with hearing aids to help him manage it.

By boosting certain frequencies, its effects have been reduced by around 80%.

He said his local audiologist, Ian Mclellan at Specsavers Inverurie “honestly saved my life”.

“Tinnitus is invisible but it made my life hell,” Mr Fraser said.

“People don’t think to protect their ears until it’s too late and the damage has been done.”

Mr Mclellan said: “Helping people is the main reason I do my job, so to hear about the difference I’ve made to Scott’s life is wonderful.

“People often don’t know much about tinnitus or who to turn to in order to help manage the symptoms.

“It’s not always clear what causes tinnitus, it’s more often linked with hearing loss with up to 90% of people with the condition having some level of noise-induced hearing loss.

“It is often called ringing in the ears, but it can be buzzing, hissing, whistling or any sound.

“Scott’s case highlights the terrible impact it can have on your life, so it’s important that everyone takes care of their hearing to reduce the risk.

“Hearing aids are the most successful treatment for tinnitus, they help mask the noise in your head by correcting the hearing loss and this is exactly what has happened in Scott’s case.”

Gordon Harrison, the chief audiologist for Specsavers, said: “If you have symptoms of tinnitus where the sound is pulsating or in just one ear, our advice would be to discuss this with your GP.

“If you have symptoms of both tinnitus and hearing loss, the use of hearing aids is often successful in managing and improving your symptoms.”

Efforts ongoing to treat tinnitus

Franki Oliver, audiology specialist at charity RNID (The Royal National Institute for Deaf People), said: “Raising awareness of tinnitus is vitally important.

“Many of us will have experienced temporary tinnitus after a night out at a concert but for some people, tinnitus is a part of daily life.

“Fortunately, many people find ways to manage and live well with their tinnitus with access to the right information and support, but for some it can affect day to day life, causing stress, anxiety, poor mental health or problems sleeping.

“If you are struggling, you can contact RNID’s tinnitus helpline which offers free, confidential information about tinnitus, by calling 0808 808 6666, texting 07800 000360, or speaking to your GP, who can refer you for specialist support.

“RNID has invested over £1 million in silencing tinnitus since 2012.

“The charity’s research in this area has increased understanding of the biological basis of tinnitus, knowledge that is now being used to develop treatments.

“Donations have helped our researchers to fund a PhD student to study and understand brain function of this condition.

“In time, this research will move us forward to find effective treatments for tinnitus.”