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How I Learned to Live With My Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)

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Glenn Stok is a technical writer with tinnitus. He researches its issues and writes about it to educate readers that have similar concerns.

Woman troubled by Tinnitus.

Woman troubled by Tinnitus.

This is a review of my experience with Tinnitus and the doctors who claimed to understand it. I'll share with you some theories, information from my research, and how I learned to live with it.

My Initial Reaction to My Tinnitus

My Tinnitus started well over a decade ago. At first, it was very disturbing. When I realized that I no longer had any quiet times, it freaked me out. I thought, "How can I go on with this constant ringing?"

I never found a cure, but it's not annoying anymore. In its early stages, I tried all sorts of remedies sold on the market. I even had kept a journal of foods I ate to see if that affected the loudness of my Tinnitus. I thought it might be related to a food allergy. Every time I thought I found a cause, my findings were inconsistent.

None of the Common Remedies Helped

I had tried using white noise generators, but they never helped much. They are meant to mask noise with sounds of rain, ocean waves, or random white noise. Some people swear by them, so it's worth a try. However in my case, I gave up using anything that makes noise.

I also tried taking Citrus Bioflavonoids and other herbal supplements that had claims of curing Tinnitus. None of them worked for me. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work for someone else. I wouldn’t rule anything out. It’s worth a try, as long as you use supplements under a doctor’s supervision.

So, I had to find a way to manage my condition in some other way.

How I Manage My Tinnitus

I found that focusing my mind on anything helps me live with the Tinnitus. After several years, it stopped bothering me. But whenever I begin to pay attention to the ringing, it's there. It's always there. The trick is to learn to ignore it.

There are many ways to avoid paying attention to it. I could be reading in a quiet room just as well as listening to music, doing crafts, building things, taking walks, hiking, and talking with friends. It all helps to keep my mind off it.

It probably made me even more creative because I keep myself occupied mentally, focusing on other things. I do a lot of writing. I find that anything requiring deep concentration helps me keep my mind off the constant ringing.

Besides knowing what to do, it's also important to know what to avoid. For example, I discovered that a cheap radio with a tinny-sounding speaker would actually make me feel pain in my ears.

After a couple of years, I became accustomed to hearing the ringing sound in my head. It became second-nature, and it doesn't even disturb my ability to hear—as was proven by a doctor who tested my hearing.

Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes. Even though Tinnitus doesn't clear up, we do get used to it. I just needed to be patient with it.

That's all we can do for now. There is no known cure at this time. If a cure is ever discovered, the American Tinnitus Association (ATA)1 would announce it.

My Tinnitus Is an 8 kHz Whistle

Tinnitus is mainly known as a ringing in the ears. Some people experience sounds like buzzing, whistling, static, beating sounds, or even roaring sounds.

Mine is an 8 kHz squeal, something similar to the whistling of a teakettle. I know the frequency of mine because when I had a hearing test, I could hear all frequencies going up a scale. When it reached 8 kHz, I couldn't tell if the test tone was on or off because my Tinnitus was at that frequency and was "on" all the time.

Once the test frequency went above 8 kHz, I started hearing it again. So it was blocked just at the range of my Tinnitus. My doctor said I was deaf at that range. I think it was merely the fact that the ringing in my ear was making the same sound. I couldn't tell the difference, and I failed to lift a finger to indicate when the doctor was creating the test tone at that frequency.

Humans can generally hear up to 22 kHz, although people over the age of 25 usually can't hear frequencies over 15kHz.

I feel like I have no problem hearing. I'm just missing the frequency correlating with my Tinnitus. I hear human speech just fine since it is at a lower frequency range.

Read More From Youmemindbody

How to Avoid Further Ear Damage

Ever since my Tinnitus began, loud noises create pain. For that reason, I couldn’t deal with concerts anymore. The music is played way too loud.

Feeling pain is an indication that more damage is occurring. It's vital to protect yourself from loud sounds, especially if they create pain. When an ambulance or fire truck goes by with the sirens blasting, I need to cover my ears.

Some occasions just can’t be avoided, so when I’m attending an activity where the music is loud, or when there are other loud noises, I make sure to bring earplugs.

Foam Ear Plugs

Foam Ear Plugs

A Theory: Can Feedback or Crosstalk in the Brain Cause Tinnitus?

I was wondering if Tinnitus might be triggered by a combination of ailments interfering with one another with some kind of interaction.

With my knowledge of electronics, I have an idea that my Tinnitus may be due to some kind of short circuit in my brain. I'll explain what I mean.

Did you ever place a microphone near the speaker of the same amplifier that the microphone is connected to? It squeals. That's feedback.

I feel like the ringing I hear in my ears is similar to that.

I wonder if there could be some sort of a connection with nerves causing crosstalk with the eighth cranial nerve. That's the nerve that carries signals from the cochlea of the inner ear to the brain, as shown below. It’s also known as the acoustic or auditory nerve.

I'll tell you why I'm thinking about this. Due to another unrelated issue, I was diagnosed with having three herniated discs in my cervical spine (That's the upper spine in the neck). Therefore, I wonder if nerve compression in the neck can cause other nerves in the body to be irritated—triggering Tinnitus.

I never found a doctor who would entertain this idea or want to research it further. With some Google research, I discovered that there are already some medical supporters of this idea. Some doctors do believe that Tinnitus may be caused by feedback or crosstalk.2 However, there is no sufficient research to prove this.

There is so much more to acknowledge as possibilities. Medical doctors should be willing to research these potential relationships.

Illustration of the Inner Ear

Illustration of the Inner Ear

Types of Tinnitus

1. Objective and Subjective Tinnitus

If the ringing is produced in the brain, no one else can hear it. But there is a type of Tinnitus that is actually a result of some movement or vibration in the skull. That's real noise, and someone else could hear it. Another type is created by the brain by nerve impulses and is subjective to your mind's interpretation of the impulse.

  • Objective Tinnitus: Your doctor can hear objective Tinnitus. During the examination, he or she places a small microphone in each ear to try to pick up the sounds you are hearing. It can be caused by blood vessels, muscle contractions, or other noise-producing ailments.
  • Subjective Tinnitus: Only you can hear this. It's not actually a sound anywhere in the ear. It may occur anywhere in the auditory system, but the brain itself may very well be creating the sound. Later I'll tell you about a horrible outcome to someone's auditory surgery that proves this.

2. Pulsatile Tinnitus

I don't have this one, but it is a rhythmic pulsing—usually in sync with the heartbeat.

If you have this type, you should get checked by a heart specialist. You might have a circulatory system dysfunction, such as a carotid artery blockage. In that case, you're actually hearing the pulsating blood running through the artery.

3. Somatic Tinnitus

Somatic Tinnitus3 is physically created within the head or neck. It's not the standard type that's imagined in the brain, but it covers a wide range of possibilities.

Physical structures outside the ear can cause Somatic Tinnitus. That would include TMJ or torsions of the neck when holding the head in an odd position. Working on a computer, sleeping with a bad pillow, or any activities that might cause muscle spasms can cause it too.

My Experience With Doctors

Many doctors claim to understand Tinnitus, but end up wasting our time.

I went to a lot of doctors when mine first started bothering me. They all said they could cure it, but none ever understood what was happening. Some of them made mistakes with tests, and some became belligerent when I knew more than they did.

An honest doctor would admit this wasn't their specialty. I am sure they are very good at what they do. However, they shouldn't take on patients with ailments they have not studied.

Difficulty Finding a Doctor Who Understands Tinnitus

Many doctors claim to understand it, but know very little, and in my experience, they end up wasting everyone's time and money.

Although this may not be true of all doctors, I found it to be a pattern among the ones I had gone to for help. It just makes things more frustrating.

I learned that it's essential to do your due diligence with finding a doctor. I made the mistake of trusting my primary physician's recommendation. He didn't know anything about Tinnitus himself, so how could he choose the right specialist?

One ENT Doctor Did an Incorrect CT Scan

An ENT doctor who examined me did a CT Scan to check if anything showed up.

I asked him how my 8th cranial nerve looked. He threw his hands in the air in anger and yelled, "That's the problem with patients knowing too much!"

A good doctor should not feel threatened when asked intelligent questions. I consider it a red flag if a doctor becomes defensive when a patient knows anatomy.

As it turned out, he never did the correct CT Scan. He did not visualize the auditory nerve at all. He wasted my time and the insurance company's money.

So be careful. Check out whomever you see. It may help to call your insurance company and ask about doctors you plan to see for Tinnitus-related problems.

Another ENT Doctor Didn't Understand Tinnitus

I did my research, so I evidently knew more than one of the ENT doctors that I went to for an exam.

He gave me a hearing test with earbuds in my ears. I had to lift a finger to indicate when I heard a sound.

I wondered if he could determine if my Tinnitus was a sound he could hear, or if it was only in my mind. So after the test, I asked him if it was subjective or objective. (I described Subjective and Objective Tinnitus in the previous section above).

He didn't understand my question, so I clarified by asking him if the earbuds had microphones so that he could determine if the sound was happening in my ears.

If he could hear the sound that I was hearing, then it's objective. He got even more confused when I tried to explain that to him.

He was an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor. But he knew nothing about Tinnitus.

I found out later that mine was subjective—only I could hear it. In other words, it wasn't a sound in my ears. It was a sound manufactured in my brain!

A Surgeon Who Made a Drastic Mistake

I used to attend a local Tinnitus Support group held by the American Tinnitus Association. Everyone shared their experiences with the group.

One member told us about her terrible experience with a doctor who offered to do surgery to eliminate her ringing. She only had it in one ear, so her doctor said he could sever the auditory nerve in that ear. He reasoned that she would still have the other good ear anyway, and her Tinnitus would be cured.

It was so devastating for her that she went ahead with the surgery. Afterward, she was deaf on the operated ear, as expected, but she still heard the ringing! What a waste!

Representation of Tinnitus Surgery

Representation of Tinnitus Surgery

Are Doctors Willing to Learn From Patients?

It would be nice if I could discuss some of my theories with an ENT doctor. However, they seem to get frightened when I offer some ideas to experiment with that they don't understand.

I even had one doctor tell me I was bringing up too many unrelated ideas, and he would have to discuss each one on a separate visit.

I felt that he just wanted to have a reason to bill my insurance company several times—one for each visit. He was no doubt more interested in making money than finding a cure.

Try to Find a Doctor Who Cares to Listen

Give yourself credit for knowing your body and find a doctor interested in analyzing the problem. After all, we know our own body more than anyone else since we live with ourselves 24 hours a day.

If you have a clue about something that you feel might be the cause of your Tinnitus, discuss it with your doctor. If he or she doesn't want to listen, look for another doctor.

I'm frustrated with the doctors who claim they understand the condition, but can't do anything about it, and don't want to entertain creative ideas.

By applying what I learned of statistics in my college days, I created an online survey several years ago with 15 multiple-choice questions. The purpose was to find what sufferers may have in common. I posted the results in another article: 15 Possible Causes of Tinnitus: Survey Results.

I imagine a motivated doctor would have an interest in that survey.

Resources

  1. American Tinnitus Association - www.ata.org
  2. J Clin Neurol. (March 31, 2009). Tinnitus: Characteristics, Causes, Mechanisms, and Treatments” - US National Library of Medicine
  3. Robert Aaron Levine, MD. (February 14, 1999). "Somatic (Craniocervical) Tinnitus and the Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus Hypothesis."- MIT.EDU

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.

© 2012 Glenn Stok

Comments

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on February 07, 2019:

Liz - Loud music is definitely a known cause of tinnitus, and it leaves one with hearing loss too.

Other forms of tinnitus do not include hearing loss. I still hear fine, except in the frequency of my tinnitus. But that is such a high frequency that it doesn't affect hearing people talk.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 07, 2019:

I have read your article with great interest. I agree that doctors feel threatened when a patient shows some knowledge of a subject. I take great encouragement from your experience of learning to live and cope with tinnitus. I fear in a generation listening to loud music that the youth of today will suffer greatly from tinnitus in the future. I have been known to use earplugs at a church of young people and still hear everything clearly.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 15, 2014:

shay-marie - Loud places such as bars and night clubs bother me. I actually feel pain in my ears under those conditions. It's best to stay away from places like that. It may be making your tinnitus worse. Your tinnitus may be at or around the 1500 Hz frequency. That may be blocking that range and you can't hear in that range due to the tinnitus. I'm speaking from my own experience. In my case it's not hearing loss, but rather, it's being blocked at one specific frequency where the tinnitus is. I hear fine for normal communication.

Shay Marie from Southern California on September 14, 2014:

@glenn stok - My low-mid range hearing is normal, but it drops off at and after about 1500 Hz. I have problems hearing things like cell phones and high pitched alarms, as well as certain consonants (like "S" or "T'). It proves to be problem when I try to talk to listen to people in loud bars, restaurants, or anywhere with a lot of background noise. Hearing aids help a bit in those situations, but it's nowhere near normal.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 14, 2014:

shay-marie - There are so many reasons for tinnitus that it's hard to determine what the cause is for any individual. The doctors could never figure it out in my case. My tinnitus is also high pitched like yours. It sounds like a distant tea kettle whistling. You were young to have it start at the age of 12. Do you know for sure that you have heading loss? Did your doctors determine which frequency range you are not hearing?

Shay Marie from Southern California on September 14, 2014:

I had always been told that my tinnitus was a direct result of my hearing loss. My doctor explained that it was feedback from dying nerve endings in my inner ear. They never were able to pinpoint what caused the hearing loss though.

If it helps at all, my tinnitus is a constant high pitched ringing . I've had it since I was 12 - I don't know what silence sounds like anymore either!

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 13, 2012:

Tinsky,

The thought that radio waves might be affecting the brain neurologically and making it "create" these sounds itself, is one of my questions. That's why I put it in my survey as one of the questions.

Since your father had tinnitus, it obviously isn't WiFi, and the airways were not as full of radio signals as we have today - such as cellular, satellite GPS signals, etc. So I still don't rule it out, but it probably isn't that.

I have learned to live with my tinnitus such as you have, simply considering it background noise. That's a good way that you explained it.

Thanks for your sharing your comments about your experience.

Tina Dubinsky from Brisbane, Australia on October 13, 2012:

When I was a young child, my father complained of Tinnitus constantly describing it as the chirping of crickets constantly in his head. So when I began to experience it too the constant "ringing" that never really goes away I took it with a grain of salt. It has since become background sound. I don't notice it usually, not unless I want to hear it. I can hear it now, but it doesn't bother me anymore. I've had it since any early age (late teens / early 20's) and often wondered if it was hereditary and or perhaps the brain picking up on some sort of radio / sound frequency in the air or sounds that might be coming from the brain itself. Thanks for such an informative article and sharing your experience. I haven't always used wi-fi etc and have had this condition long before I even began using a computer.

Dr. John Anderson from Australia on Planet Water on September 21, 2012:

My tinnitus arose when I had a cold and the virus attacked the 'hair' cells in the left inner ear killed them all stone dead - completely lost hearing in that ear (stone deaf). Interestingly the specialist diagnosed the problem using a tuning fork! I have got used to the phantom ringing in the ears which comes and goes.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 21, 2012:

Very thorough information here, Glenn. I know many people who have suffered from this and they tell me it "drives them crazy". Thanks for sharing. Rated Up/I/U

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