Mention rugby players’ ears and most of us would think of the telltale ‘cauliflower’ effect – the bulbous swelling that results from years of rough and tumble in the scrum. But for Ben Cohen, the problem was internal, invisible and unprompted by the sport.
The former England winger’s career was at its peak when doctors gave him the devastating news in early 2004, just a few months after he lifted aloft the World Cup trophy, that he was going deaf.
Yet despite being given hearing aids, the rugby star, now 34, never wore them, finding them inconvenient and ineffective. Then two years ago came a rather unexpected telephone conversation with a pop legend that would, he says, change his life for ever.
Having just retired from full-time sport, Ben set up a charity to tackle bullying, in particular homophobic bullying, called The Stand Up Foundation. This caught the attention of Sir Elton John.
‘He called me, out of the blue, and introduced himself. He said, “I hear you’re deaf. I love the work you’re doing and I’d love to help you. Ben’s message is clear, though: getting help for hearing loss can be life-changing, and there is no need to suffer in the silence – as he did for years.
He recalls the tests that first diagnosed his deafness.
‘The doctor just said, “You’ve got really bad hearing – 33 per cent loss in each ear, as well as tinnitus,” which explained the ringing in my ears that had gone on for ages. Longer than I could actually remember.‘It sounds strange but I’d never paid much attention to it because it had always been there – even as a kid at school. But it wasn’t as bad then so it didn’t affect me.’ Despite this, the ringing is constant. ‘Whether it’s quiet, when I’m trying to sleep, or whether it’s noisy, it’s always there.’ He refused to let the diagnosis bring him down, however. ‘I wasn’t going to let myself feel sorry for myself,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t a shock because I knew there was a problem. I just had to make the most of it and focus on my rugby career. ‘Although hearing loss in someone my age is unusual, they said it wasn’t anything to do with rugby but that it was probably hereditary because my dad’s hearing was terrible.’ For years, Ben had ignored his problem, despite the ringing being there permanently. Anybody who might be concerned about their hearing, can avail of a free hearing test at any Hidden Hearing branch nationwide. You can book a hearing test free of charge at any of Hidden Hearing’s 60 clinics nationwide. Freephone 1800 370 000 or visit www.hiddenhearing.ie.