One night at home in Greystones, Ireland in 2003, aged 25, I was watching a movie and noticed that my left ear felt as if it had water in it. At first I didn’t think much of it. Then the feeling persisted and got worse every time I heard a loud noise.
I went to my GP, who said I had a small hole in my eardrum and prescribed antibiotics. The hole healed, but afterwards I began to find certain everyday noises painful – and both ears were affected.
This started to have an impact on my behaviour. On a train, I would sit as far as possible from the loudspeaker; in a cafe, I would distance myself from the coffee machines. I hated the sound of the pneumatic doors on buses. Noises at home triggered discomfort, too: plates clinking together, or the toilet being flushed. It was as if everything was turned up to maximum volume. To block out the noise, I started to wear earplugs in everyday situations. My GP didn’t seem to know what was wrong.
In 2004, I moved to London to pursue a music career, but my condition got worse. In the studio, trying to mix a record, I would be in pain. I became depressed about how this “allergy to sound” was affecting my efforts to become a professional musician. It made me anxious and hard to get along with. My partner had to tiptoe around me; if we had an argument we would have to whisper at each other.
I sought help from the NHS, but was told there was a long wait to see the ear, nose and throat services (ENT). In the meantime, I turned to the internet and learned about a condition called hyperacusis, which seemed to be what I was suffering from. It involves increased sensitivity to sounds that most people are able to tolerate.
When my ENT appointment came round 18 months later, it felt like the last chance saloon for my hearing. I wasn’t expecting much,…