by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
In this and the following two blog entries are the tinnitus stories of three different people. (Each of them has graciously given me permission to share their stories in hopes of helping others. I have changed their names to protect their privacy.)
Notice how each person’s tinnitus has a somewhat different cause. Also notice how each person has learned one or two essential things they can do to help control their tinnitus. When you know what affects your tinnitus, you can take appropriate steps in order to help keep your tinnitus under control too. Perhaps your tinnitus can be helped using some of their “tricks”.
Here’s the first story.
In some people, the onset of their tinnitus can be slow and gradual—but just as annoying as if it came on suddenly. This is what happened with “Jim.” Here is his story.
My tinnitus started rather slowly eight months ago. I started to realize something just didn’t feel right in my head. I don’t remember hearing a noise at that time, but everyday living was painful. I did a lot of toying with, and holding, my head, especially in the evening when I was sitting watching TV. My wife says I started to make painful little sighs at times when I didn’t realize it, and different facial expressions like I was in pain.
Then my ears started to make little ringing sounds during quiet times. I noticed nothing when I stayed busy. As the ringing progressed, it became harder to concentrate on things. I seemed to want to stay busy going from one project to another. I would take shorts walking breaks at work while others were on a smoke break.
When I was at work, or when my mind was busy, I noticed very little ringing myself, but I noticed my wife would be watching me from time to time. (That is never a good sign.) Then things started to change.
The ringing started to get louder, and it appeared to be coming from my right ear. I also felt what I call a heavy feeling in my right ear. I started to hear the ringing during the day, but in the evening it was worse, sometimes to the point I started to go to bed early.
As things progressed, I started to get unsteady on my feet when I was exhausted. I had a number of near falls, then 2 falls outside. I ended up in a sling for 2 weeks after one fall. I felt tipsy mostly when I was working hard outside all day. Along with that came a steady ringing. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but described it as a head ringing. Every week or so, it would suddenly change to a lower pitch for about 5 seconds.
By that time I was hitting the doctor circuit with CT scans and hearing tests. I was told by 2 different doctors I had something called tinnitus and hearing loss, but not bad enough for hearing aids.
Their only suggestion was to turn on a fan to make some noise. My answer was, “Maybe that might help some people, but I would have to turn on a lawnmower to make this noise go away!” I had no idea what tinnitus was, but knew it was whipping my butt, and no one but my wife could understand all the problems it was causing me.
I quit telling friends and co-workers about the ringing because they all “had it too” or knew of someone who did, and they just got used to it. That was tough for me to handle. It wasn’t until my family doctor sent me to a second Neurologist that things started to look up. He realized this was not a little bit of ringing that “we all sometimes have”, but that this was whipping my butt. He called the Beltone office while I was there and gave me a script for something to try to see if I got any relief.
He said it was a product just out and would be available in 2 weeks. I went to Beltone and had another hearing test. One of the things I was always wanting is for someone else to be able to hear what I was hearing so they would understand. I think my wife got to hear close to what I was hearing during this test, and she describes it like the emergency broadcast tone on the TV.
Beltone had a BTE hearing aid that was both a hearing aid and also a tinnitus masker. If I have it correct, my ringing is at a certain frequency. The masker produces noise at another frequency that is more pleasant to listen to and tends to cancel out the ringing.
My family noticed right off the bat I was better. I could sit and carry on a conversation without needing to get up and move around. My life was not so painful and I could get some peace.
Being the “manly” man that I am at 57 I figured I can’t wear hearing aids, or I won’t wear them at work, but just at home. However, they worked so well I put them on in the morning and they are the last thing I take off at night.
When bad, I would consider my ringing to be an 7 (out of 10) and maybe would rate it higher because with the ringing comes a balance problem. Before the tinnitus masker, I took some Hydrocodone to try to get relief. I describe that experience as the ringing is still there, but it just doesn’t make me as mad.
I found this group [the SayWhatClub] when I was really feeling sorry for myself. I found others that are going through the same thing I am, and see my problems are a drop in the bucket compared to some others. I also realize these things can happen to me and not always just to someone else. My tinnitus has taught me patience and to be more understanding of others. I had forgotten that and needed to be reminded again.
From “Jim” we can learn a couple of important things to help in dealing with tinnitus. First, people with tinnitus need emotional support (even though men often deny this). One of the best support (and friendship) groups around is an on-line (email) support group called the SayWhat Club. I’ve been a member of the SWC for 12 years now. Met my wife there too!
Second, tinnitus masking works for some people. It is a viable option you may want to check out. If you have a hearing loss, then a combined hearing aid/tinnitus masker may be your solution. Ask your audiologist about this. There are several brands of hearing aid/tinnitus maskers available.
Also, a good number of people find that just wearing their hearing aids makes their tinnitus disappear or fade into the background—at least while they are wearing their hearing aids. However, their tinnitus often comes back when they take their aids off at night, but at least they get relief during the day when they are awake.