Victoria Didenko is a Board Member of Better Hearing Australia (VIC). Victoria experiences tinnitus and is passionate about increasing awareness and engagement about tinnitus in the community.
A Star is Born is the fourth incarnation of a Hollywood film, first released in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Since then Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and now Lady Gaga have played the female protagonists in this ever-successful movie. Their male lead stars have been James Mason, Kris Kristofferson and for the first time, the male protagonist 'Jackson Maine' played by Bradley Cooper has been 'given' hearing loss and tinnitus by the scriptwriters in the latest incarnation.
As someone who experiences disturbing tinnitus, I feel it is a positive thing to see tinnitus and hearing loss discussed on the big screen in this recent version of the film A Star is Born. Tinnitus is not considered a major health concern by the medical community in Australia. This is rather alarming since tinnitus affects approximately 18% of Australians and it's potential to trigger anxiety, depression and worse is potent.
The medical community might not appear to be agitating for more funding and support for people who present with tinnitus, but if Hollywood and Australian filmmakers are anything to go by, tinnitus appears to be climbing up the film industry 'pop' charts as a symptom of significance and one that can alter the behaviour and erode the quality of daily life dramatically. While the film focuses on the relationship of the two leads and the powerful music, the tinnitus theme is mentioned throughout and should hopefully bring and raise awareness to others. Screenwriters are recognising that by 'giving' their protagonist's tinnitus, it can add to the angst and dynamic of a screenplay, and the theme is becoming more prevalent in big Hollywood movies.
American actor Ansel Elgort plays 'Baby', the male lead in a recent Hollywood release 'Baby Driver'. Baby suffers from hearing issues and spends most of his days with earplugs in his ears, listening to loud music to block out the omnipresent sounds of his tinnitus. Not a good idea for someone who already has damaged hearing. Australian film 'NOISE’ released in 2007 sees actor Brendan Cowell give the performance of his career when he plays Constable Graham McGahan a police officer who is 'afflicted' with tinnitus and hearing health issues. These symptoms torment him and make his job even more challenging as he tries to solve a murder mystery. Strangely enough, an American film titled 'NOISE' was released in the same year. Tim Robbins is the actor this time who plays the protagonist who cannot abide by the cacophony of noise experienced by living in a major modern city such as New York. Maybe he suffers from hyperacusis, a hearing condition that creates heightened sensitivity and intolerance to certain sounds.
Tinnitus has always had stigma attached to it, yet is becoming a symptom recognised as debilitating and challenging to live with by Hollywood and Australian film makers. This is an extraordinary paradigm shift in the way tinnitus is perceived and I hope the medical community takes heed. Tinnitus affects many musicians such as the likes of 'Jackson Maine' but is in fact, non-discriminatory affecting equal numbers of males and females alike and is not unique to people in the music industry.
Tinnitus is often noise-induced, which is probably the cause of Jackson Maine's tinnitus in A Star is Born, but exposure to loud noise is not the sole cause of tinnitus. Excessive use of drugs, alcohol, smoking and high caffeine intake can spike awareness of the ringing making it appear to be louder and more heightened than usual. Jackson Maine in 'A Star is Born' is a substance abuser and it is no wonder he struggled to keep his tinnitus in check.
Aging, stress and certain medications can trigger a ringing of the ears which never goes away. Tinnitus can cause depression, anxiety and create an emotional state of despair, but do depression and anxiety trigger tinnitus?
There is current discussion by doctors and audiologists that this just might very well be the case - in some cases. Many people have ringing ears and it doesn't bother them. Some people can habituate quickly to the sounds and can 'switch-off' easily. But for millions of Australians, tinnitus can be so disturbing and distressing, that it has the potential to erode the quality of daily life and create inner emotional turmoil.
Currently, tinnitus remains a medical conundrum, and Better Hearing Australia (VIC) is working hard to advocate on behalf of the one million Victorian's who suffer this auditory torment. With caring support, tinnitus retraining therapy, counselling, the use of sound machines and hearing aids, people can learn to switch off from the internal head noises and live life with full participation.
If you suffer from ringing ears or experience head 'noises' (clunking, whirring, buzzing, sounds that are generated without any external input) don't hesitate to reach out and ask for help. To learn more about tinnitus please visit Tinnitus Australia www.tinnitusaustralia.org.au or contact Better Hearing Australia (VIC) now for a hearing check and discuss your hearing health concerns with one of our professional and caring audiologists.
Image Source: Warner Bros Entertainment