A former section commander in the Royal Marines who nearly died in a bomb blast in Afghanistan is raising awareness of tinnitus - calling it the ‘unseen injury which has affected me most’.
Harris Tatakis was seriously injured when his Land Rover drove over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan in 2007, shattering his left leg, breaking his right foot, causing brain damage and rupturing both his ear drums.
But ten years on and after undergoing numerous operations on his leg and treatment for his brain injury, the 39-year-old from Plymouth is calling for greater awareness and understanding of the effects of his ‘unseen injury’ – tinnitus.
People affected by tinnitus hear a ringing, hissing or whistling sound in one or both of their ears or head not linked to any external source and is often caused by exposure to loud noise or ear or head injuries.
Said Harris: “Because it’s an unseen injury, it doesn’t get the attention it warrants. There is not enough understanding of how life-limiting tinnitus can be – the need for low background noise to distract you combined with constantly keeping yourself occupied to stop your brain focusing on the noises it’s being bombarded with, it’s hugely tiring.”
“Out of all my injuries this is the one that’s affected me most.”
Now to mark Armed Forces Day (24 June), Harris is keen to raise greater awareness after treatment from The Tinnitus Clinic in Bristol, funded by the Royal British Legion (RBL), led to a significant reduction in the intensity of his condition.
He said: “I was in hospital after the explosion and undergoing a lot of surgery – I needed to rest as much as possible so I could start to heal and get better. But while I was being given morphine for the pain, medication couldn’t do anything about the constant ringing in my ears which was affecting my ability to sleep or even try to relax.
“I’m also affected by hyperacusis which means I am very sensitive to loud or high-pitched tones – which is basically tinnitus – so the two conditions often clash and it can become unbearable.”
According to the RBL, one in four Service members returning from conflicts complains of hearing loss and/or tinnitus. More than 40 per cent said their tinnitus symptoms had a “significant effect” on their quality of life.
Veterans are also more than three times as likely to suffer from hearing loss than the general population, and while many people can use devices and treatments which are available from the NHS, for others a more specialist expert approach is needed.
Harris said: “I have had treatment for my hearing issues at various NHS hospitals in the past which helped get the conditions under control to an extent.
“But last year I went back into hospital for another operation on my leg and afterwards had a bad reaction to the medication – and my tinnitus went through the roof.
“It was horrendous and making me feel desperate and I was searching online every day for treatments when I discovered The Tinnitus Clinic. I realised a lot of the treatments they had were exclusive to the UK and decided to see if they could help.”
He said: “The treatment has reduced the intensity a lot and brought it back to the level it was before the bad reaction last year. I am able to function a lot better and can live with the level.
“There needs to be much greater understanding of tinnitus and the treatments available. People get told all the time there’s no cure and while that may well be true, there are treatments out there that can help make it much more manageable and easier to live with.”
Listen to Harris' interview with BBC Radio Devon's, David FitzGerald, aired on 16th June 2017
For further information on The Tinnitus Clinic’s multidisciplinary approach call 0203 3261777 or e-mail email@example.com.
More information on funding from Veterans Hearing Fund (VHF) can be found on www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-support/finances/grants/veterans-medical-funds or call the Royal British Legion contact centre on 0808 802 8080.