“My tinnitus became so loud that I could not focus on anything else,” says University of Bradford Politics student Zbigniew Pawel Soj

Tinnitus. A word which either you’re completely familiar with, or blissfully oblivious to. For some it’s a ringing sound in the ears, while for others, it’s a whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, or even shrieking.

Symptoms often generate feelings of despair and anxiety in many patients. Current estimates suggest that 48-78% of patients with severe tinnitus also experience depression, anxiety or some other behavioural disorder.

A 23-year-old politics student set himself the challenge to raise awareness of the condition which can perturb one ear or both, and is estimated to affect a staggering one in 10 people in the UK.

University of Bradford final year politics student Zbigniew Pawel Soj (Paul to his friends) pledged to walk or run 100km to raise awareness of tinnitus after contracting the condition.

Paul’s tinnitus began just over a year ago when he started hearing unexplained high pitched sounds in his left ear. The noises soon spread to his other ear and at times became so loud that he could not concentrate.

He said: “When I developed tinnitus, it was a very stressful time in my life. My tinnitus became so loud that I could not focus on anything else. It was at times so unbearable that it affected my whole life.”

Just over a year on and he’s found a number of techniques – including massage and cognitive behavioural therapy – to help him cope with his tinnitus but he says it’s something he notices every day and that the condition is not given enough attention.

“Part of the problem is that when you talk to family, friends, even GPs and health professionals about tinnitus, you feel ignored, because they do not know how to treat it and so they say that ‘you will have to learn to live with it’.

“A lot of people don’t really know what it is (unless they have it) and as a consequence, it’s not taken seriously. The reality is tinnitus can stop you sleeping, studying, working and even socialising. That’s partly why I took on this challenge, to try and raise awareness of what tinnitus is and to make people aware of how debilitating it can be.”

He added: “I was really struggling with my daily life that involved studying, working and socialising. The high-pitch sound in my head was often so loud that I could not focus on anything unless I had a device playing some white noise next to me. I also suffered from insomnia for a couple of months, which made me down every day as I lacked enough sleep.

“I started losing any hope that my life would ever get better. It was truly the darkest time I have been ever through so far. Nevertheless, I found light at the end of this deep and black tunnel”.

Paul introduced new management techniques to his life, including neuromodulation and physical activity, which have helped him live well with his tinnitus. He attended group sessions and workshops organised by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA).

According to the BTA, tinnitus affects an estimated six million Brits, including 54,000 adults in Bradford and around 245,000 across West Yorkshire. The causes are said to be varied, in some cases relating to injury and hearing loss and in other cases stress. No cure has yet been identified.