How I Learned to Live With My Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)
This is a review of my experience with Tinnitus, the doctors who claimed to understand it, information from my research, some theories, and how I'm dealing with it.
My Tinnitus started well over a decade ago. At first, I couldn't deal with it. When I realized that I no longer had any quiet times, it freaked me out. I couldn't imagine how I could live with it. I thought, "How can I go on with this constant ringing?"
I never found a cure. 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.
I Tried the Common Remedies Without Success
I had tried using white noise generators1, but they never helped much. Some people swear by them, so it's worth a try. 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)2 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.
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.
A Theory About Tinnitus
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.3 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.
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 Tinnitus4 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
Difficulty Finding a Doctor Who Understands Tinnitus
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.
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 in his office 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!
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.
My Tinnitus Survey of Possible Related Causes
Thanks to what I learned from my studies of statistics in my college days, I created an online survey several years ago with 15 multiple-choice questions. The purpose was to compile possible related causes of Tinnitus and to find what sufferers may have in common.
Although inconclusive, I posted the results in another article: 15 Possible Causes of Tinnitus: Survey Results.
I feel a reliable doctor would have an interest in that survey. After all, they are entirely clueless at present.
3. J Clin Neurol. (March 31, 2009). “Tinnitus: Characteristics, Causes, Mechanisms, and Treatments” US National Library of Medicine
4. 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.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Glenn Stok