Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Living with hearing loss: a hidden disability

by Aamer Safdar, Pharmacy Education, Training & Workforce Development Team Lead at Barts Health NHS Trust

People with tinnitus hear noises, such as ringing or buzzing, that are not caused by an outside source. My tinnitus is a high-pitched whistling in my ears day and night, worse on the left side than the right. Most of the time my brain filters it out but when I’m stressed the whistling feels louder than normal, and often disturbs my sleep.

I was diagnosed with tinnitus in 2012, after losing my hearing. At the time, I thought this was due to the stress of working full-time and a very challenging leadership course. 

After using remedies like olive oil and having my ears syringed at the GP, I was diagnosed with tinnitus, and told that I would benefit from using hearing aids. As you might imagine, it took a while to adjust to this news. Even though between 15 and 20% of people have tinnitus, it’s rarely spoken about in the same way as, for example, needing to wear glasses. Glasses are not an issue for most people, but a wearing hearing aid is often seen in a different light.

My hearing aids

My hearing improved massively after I was given NHS issue hearing aids. The trouble was that I was now hearing everything, and had to train my brain to filter out noises such as the rustling of newspapers on the train and other people’s mobile phone conversations, until I realised it would be better to only wear my hearing aids when I needed them, rather than all the time.

Without my hearing aids I can struggle to hear what people are saying, often walking on the left side of someone to favour my “good” right ear and relying on lip reading.  In noisy places I often can’t hear a thing, and although I may look attentive to what’s being said I’m actually concentrating on faces and only pretending to listen. 

Opening up

I openly ‘put my ears in’ when speaking to people, and they often wonder what I’m talking about until I show them my hearing aids; it can make them uncomfortable, and they don’t know what to say or how to acknowledge this. To make them feel at ease, as they are obviously thinking about my disability, I try not to make a big deal of this.

The problem with masks

The requirement to wear masks at work is the worst possible thing as I can’t hear what is being said, as the sounds are all muffled, even with my hearing aids, but masks also make lip reading impossible.

This has forced me to acknowledge that I really do have a disability, and I now tick the disability box on forms where I previously didn’t. It’s a big thing for me and my self-esteem: I am now classed as being disabled in my own eyes.

What does a person with disabilities look like?  They look like me, they look like you - not all disabilities are visible, and they can be overlooked or misunderstood, causing discrimination or exclusion. It’s scary to put yourself out there in this way, but when you do, you enable others to understand more about you, themselves and the common humanity we share.

 

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group

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