Michael is an author with a passion for health and the longevity of human lives and has been living with tinnitus for nearly a decade.
Learning to Live With Tinnitus
I've been living with tinnitus (ringing in the ears) for nearly eight years of my life, and it always surprises me that people are totally oblivious to it when I reference it. It concerns me somewhat because everyone is susceptible to this life-altering condition, and no one seems to take it seriously.
I can tell you that tinnitus has irreparably changed my life. It all started a few years ago. I went to bed, and everything was quiet except for this sound that was seemingly coming from within my head. I remember walking around my room trying to locate where this consistent hum was emanating.
My heart started racing because I couldn't get away from the pitch of the sound. It was a pitch that I always describe to others as maddening. The first few days, I felt I was going insane. I couldn't focus on anything except for this phantom noise that was reverberating inside my skull.
I booked an emergency appointment with an otolaryngologist. He came to the conclusion, "You have tinnitus; you'll have to learn to live with it." I abhorred his bedside manner. It was clear to me that he's never had tinnitus and/or he's just a paycheck doctor. This article entails how I coped with tinnitus and how I refused to let it destroy my mind.
You have tinnitus, you'll have to learn to live with it.
— Insensitive Otolaryngologist
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus isn't classified as a disease; it is a medical condition that causes a neurological perception of a ringing where there is no actual external sound present. Although it is labeled as a "ringing," it is, in fact, only one among many sounds an individual might perceive. Other described sounds are whistling, hissing, buzzing, or even a vibration-like noise.
The perceived noise varies in pitch, tone, and overall loudness. Tinnitus is generally worsened in a quiet environment. Personally, I can never be within an enclosed space without some ambient noise helping in taking the focus off the ringing inside my head. Additionally, sleep is next to impossible without a fan running in the background of my sleeping space, and I'm hardly alone.
It is estimated that 50 to 60 million people living in the United States are afflicted with tinnitus. Most tinnitus sufferers are fortunate if its severity is mild and therefore easily ignored. In gradually more severe and chronic cases, it moves from being a mere annoyance to a life-altering frustration that can adversely affect one's quality of life.
Many chronic sufferers find it hard to concentrate during the day and deal with attempting to sleep through the night. These difficulties lead to other hardships, such as increased stress, strained relationships at work, and with friends and family. Also, individuals that have tinnitus are very prone to physiological and psychological distress.
Often, tinnitus can be accompanied by "Hyperacusis," which is heightened sensitivity to sound. People with any degree of hearing loss will inevitably find the ravages of tinnitus more serious because of the lack of exterior noises to help mask the tinnitus. The perception of their ringing will feel even more prominent and inescapable. There are people who are entirely deaf but still suffer from the noise inside their heads.
What Can Cause Tinnitus?
Prolonged and sustained exposure to high decibel sound is the most common cause of tinnitus. The noise pollution permanently damages the inner ear's sound cells of the cochlea. Anyone working in a high decibel work environment is highly susceptible to developing tinnitus.
In fact, the number one service disability for returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq for three years straight is tinnitus. The veterans were constantly exposed to a high level of noise daily, from jet engines, mechanical noise, gunfire, and explosions, all contributing to hearing-loss-related tinnitus. Many people never successfully pinpoint the cause of their tinnitus; there are other causes for tinnitus to arise:
- Past or current Injuries to the neck and head. An old neck injury can take years to manifest symptoms, such as ringing in the ears.
- A history of jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ).
- Having Meniere's disease, which affects the inner ear, and may cause tinnitus.
- Blockages of the inner ear caused by a buildup of wax.
- Chronic or severe ear infection.
- Side effects from certain drugs, most notably aspirin, antibiotics, and antidepressants.
- Quinine medication.
Dealing With Tinnitus Getting Louder
Learning how to deal with tinnitus getting louder wasn't an option. Either it was going to continue to completely flip my world upside, or I could find a balance to coexist with it. If you have recently been diagnosed with tinnitus, then believe me when I tell you that I know exactly how you are feeling. At my lowest, I wouldn't even get out of bed and became fixated on the sound. I can only hope to console you by telling you it does get easier.
Your brain eventually will habituate to its frequency, and there are times I forget that it's there. So, as it turned out, the doctor that told me "you'll learn to live with it" wasn't too far off (although he could have used a more empathic tone). Because tinnitus is an underlying symptom of another condition, there's always hope to figure out what started your tinnitus and how you can cure yourself.
There are many uplifting stories of people curing themselves through a lot of experimentation. There are many things that can exacerbate the ringing, such as stress, caffeine, too much salt, and further damage to inner-ear nerves. There are nearly 200 prescription drugs that list tinnitus as a side effect, so keep an eye on your prescription. For me, it was salty food. The more salt I consumed, the louder my tinnitus sounded.
If you're serious about possibly ridding yourself of tinnitus or at least mitigating it, then you should definitely keep an activity and food journal. I kept track of everything I did, how I did it, what I drank, ate, and in what quantities. For easing my mind into sleep, I always have a small fan running, and it helps mask the ringing in my ears, or you can take it a step further with a white noise sound machine.
Also, accept support from your friends and family. At first, I kept my condition from my loved ones, and in retrospect, that was a huge mistake. It's okay to lean on people who care about us when we need them. I know there's no way to convince you, but tinnitus becomes very manageable over time—just try to hang in there; you're not alone. Who knows, there is promising tinnitus research going on, and we may have a cure one day. Until that day comes, we have to cope with tinnitus.
Is There a Cure for Tinnitus?
There have been great strides taken to better understand tinnitus through research funded by the U.S. government. Currently, there isn't a cure for tinnitus. Researchers aren't giving up, and neither should anyone coping with tinnitus. There's very progressive research currently underway.
Be careful what some claim on the internet; there aren't any miracle cures for tinnitus, mainstream medicine, or homeopathic, and I've tried everything. Although every person's tinnitus is different and specific to that individual, it doesn't hurt to try everything once. I genuinely have to believe that one day I can have silence again. You'll never realize how much you miss it till it's gone. Here are ways to reduce your risk of developing tinnitus:
- Turn down the volume; it's not worth the risk of hearing loss and permanent ringing in your ears. And if you're not the owner of the volume knob, ask; your hearing is at stake.
- Bring earplugs to loud movies. I used to get weird looks when I forgot my earplugs and had to resort to using wads of napkins. Pride and vanity should not go before the health of your hearing.
- Avoid loud places. Nightclubs with debilitating loud music are just a risk no one should take. I've never found the root cause of my tinnitus. Maybe if I had avoided loud surroundings when I was younger, I probably wouldn't be writing at this moment.
- Mind your surroundings, don't be too macho to put your hands over your ears. If it's too loud for you, assume the position and cover up!
Thank you for reading through. It's a lengthy subject, and I appreciate you hanging in there. I hope you'll be more careful with your hearing; once you lose it, you lose it for good. Also, keep in mind that hearing loss and tinnitus go hand in hand. Feel free to share this article with a friend or your social network.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Michael Kismet
Michael Kismet (author) from Northern California on August 26, 2014:
Greeting Denise, thank you for sharing your experience with tinnitus, I hope your husband has habituated well to his individual symptoms of the condition. It's hard to describe the encompassing effect it has on a human mind. I always tell my loved ones it's like a claustrophobic feeling that is ongoing, the best way to cope is to adapt and possess much mental fortitude. As I've mentioned before there's hopeful research underway, remind your husband to hang in there! I hope you and your husband the best.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on August 26, 2014:
My husband has tinnitus. He is a trumpet player that worked in the oil field to put himself through college. We believe it is a combination of the loud sound from the machines he worked around, the pressure on his ears from playing his trumpet, and the frequent increased decibels in his environment while a band director. He also has sleep apnea and hearing loss. At present, he tells me that the CPAP machine masks the noise at night enough that he is able to rest. He doesn't lie down in bed, though, until he knows he is tired enough to sleep.
Michael Kismet (author) from Northern California on August 23, 2014:
Thanks, I hope your tinnitus is more manageable than mine, there are excellent researchers hard at work, I have no doubts a cure for this maddening condition is just around the corner. Hang in there!
Cheryl Fay Mikesell from Mondovi, WI on August 23, 2014:
I have tinnitus. No fun some days. I was the noise in my ears to stop. Good article it.