A NORTH-East referee claims his tinnitus was caused by years of whistle blowing.

Lee Cook, who has officiated in non-league football in County Durham, spoke out after an American study suggested referees were much more likely to report symptoms of ringing in the ears and trouble hearing than others of the same age.

Mr Cook said: “I’m convinced the use of the referee’s whistle over the last ten to 12 years has contributed to, if not caused, my tinnitus.”

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Mr Cook first noticed problems about six years ago. He was diagnosed with temporary tinnitus but now suffers from the problem permanently.

He said he has problems throughout the day and night, sometimes struggles to sleep, has to carefully consider where he can go and always carries ear defenders.

He said: “When you’re assessed, you’re expected to make a clear whistle. You’re blowing that whistle at full force.

“I cannot see a way out. You can’t use a weak whistle and you can’t referee with earplugs in because you need to hear what’s going on around you.”

The study, by Nathan Williams and Professor Gregory Flamme, was published in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in January.

The Football Association, on behalf of the Referees’ Association, said it took health and wellbeing extremely seriously, was concerned at any ill effects of whistle blowing and, although it had not received any reports of problems, would look into the matter further.