ENGLAND rugby legend Ben Cohen revealed his tinnitus is so severe it can make his eyes water and the constant screeching noise "supersedes everything."
The former athlete, 40, is in the record books as England's second highest try scorer of all time and finished eighth during his time on Strictly Come Dancing, despite being clinically deaf and unable to hear the music.
He has lent his support to Huawei's StorySign app and its latest edition The Lonely Penguin, which gives deaf children the chance to experience books being signed to them through a smart phone.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun Online about his own hearing issues, Ben explained: "I’ve got 46 per cent hearing and I’ve got tinnitus that’s off the chart.
"Everything in my world is a loud scream, permanently, everyday, 24/7. There’s no sound that can beat it. It supersedes absolutely everything.
"I’ve never known any different. It wasn’t until later on I realised I was deaf. The tinnitus does drive people crazy, it doesn’t me, it does change pitch – sometimes it gets so unbearable it makes your eyes water."
The sportsman has to position himself in particular ways when chatting to people and is aware it can sometimes lead to awkward questions being asked.
"My challenges are everything is on 55 per cent mute, I’ve got a battle there.
"I can’t stand beside someone and look in the same direction as them and hear what they’re saying. I have to turn face on into a position I can see their lips move and try and piece it together.
"Every day is a challenge. If I’m talking to people and you see my eyes start to move and flicker. It’s off-putting because people are like ‘what’s he looking at?’ or ‘am I missing something?’, and if it’s a woman wearing a low cut top they probably think 'is he staring at my breasts?', but I’m not, it’s something that you become so cautious of you end up saying 'I’m profoundly deaf'.
Ben was a vital part of England's 2003 World Cup winning side that defeated Australia in the final thanks to Jonny Wilkinson's famous drop kick.
While his limited hearing had many drawbacks on the field, he also credits it with helping him rack up so many tries.
"I say this as a joke, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason I’m the second highest try scorer for England of all time, it’s because I couldn’t hear anyone to pass the ball to. I literally ran scared when I had the ball. I learnt to lip read playing rugby."
The star praised his club Northampton as well as the England set up for treating him with empathy and helping him manage his condition on the field.
He was forced to work extra hard to keep up with his teammates and had to remain mentally strong.
"Being a sportsman was a bloody challenge," he said. "I missed a lot, but I had to try and think and learn on the hoof. I could visually learn so much quicker than trying to hear it.
"It’s something you live with and come to terms with, you have to. The last thing I wanted it to do is hinder what I wanted to achieve.
"I did Strictly come dancing. I couldn’t hear the music, I could hear a noise but I couldn’t hear the beat.
"I missed a lot in rugby. I had to mentally think on my feet I have to follow like a sheep before I can lead. Being in an elite team is very difficult.
"Up to a point when I played rugby people thought I was incredibly rude because I’d walk past and ignore them. It’s incredibly tough to live with it. It’s something that’s only ever going to get worse in my life."
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Since starring in Strictly in 2013 Ben has gone on to have a three-year-old daughter with his dance partner and girlfriend Kristina Rihanoff.
He also has 11-year-old twin daughters Harriette and Isabella from his marriage to ex-wife Abby.
Being a dad-of-three is something Ben relishes, telling us: "Fatherhood’s great for me. I’ve got three beautiful girls they’re my best friends, and I’m a great dad.
"I enjoy being with them every moment. I love children. I love watching mine grow up into young adults, especially my twins Harriet and Isabelle.
"My kids make me proud everyday that’s what you want as a parent."
Ben and Kristina recently launched their own well-being centre called Soo Yoga and that is taking up their immediate focus with any plans for a wedding well and truly in the future.
When asked about a wedding, Ben said: "We’ll see. We’ve got our business up and running and family on top of that.
"And that will take our full concentration and keep us well busy."
Ben Cohen was speaking at the launch of The Lonely Penguin, the latest book to be added to the Huawei StorySign app. To find out more, visit www.storysign.com
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