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

Author:

Glenn Stok has tinnitus and did a lot of research to understand its complications. He shares his knowledge for those with similar concerns.

tinnitus-sufferers-experience-ringing-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.

Foam Ear Plugs

Foam Ear Plugs

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.

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 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!

tinnitus-sufferers-experience-ringing-ears

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.

Resources

1. White Noise Machine - Wikipedia

2. American Tinnitus Association - www.ata.org

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.

© 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 May 19, 2017:

MizBejabbers - The statistics of this survey haven't changed much since I published the results in the other article. They remain pretty consistent as more people vote.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 19, 2017:

Glen, I read your other hub on tinnitis nearly two years ago, but I didn't see this one then. I took your survey two years too late out of my own curiosity. As I stated in my previous comment, I have no idea when mine began and can't remember ever being without it. I didn't realize the problem until one night in the middle of the night I awakened to dead silence except for a dog barking in the distance. It was a slow, comical yarp, yarp coming about a second or two apart. That was when I realized that the world was quiet, except for the dog, and the silence was what had awakened me. I so hoped the world would still be silent when I awakened again, but I awoke to the usual racket of screaming circadas in my ears. I have tried to separate the different tones, and so far have counted five different ones. Sometimes there are only three. The sounds are louder in my left ear than in the right, but I'm losing hearing in the right ear. One masks the whistle of a 4 a.m. train that passes about 1/2 mile below the hill where our house sits. My husband can't understand why I rarely ever hear the train whistle or the train as it stops with engines rumbling on the track. If surgery would cure these constant circadas in my head, I would have it in a New York minute.

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.

Madoshi from Belgium on September 27, 2012:

Yes definitely, I have been somewhat of a earbud prophet after it happened. People don't understand until after the damage has been done and it's easy to prevent (at least in case of noise induced tinnitus)!

Surely future medical understanding and technology will provide peace of ears. I certainly hope rather sooner than later. Until then, I agree it is wise to keep your mind and body active to distract from it.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 27, 2012:

Madoshi,

Sorry to hear about your tinnitus. You have noise induced tinnitus. I found from comparing notes with people that this seems to be a lower frequency, as you described. Being that is the case, the sleeping music works to cover it somewhat.

There is another form of tinnitus that no doctor seems to understand, and I call it a malfunction of the brain -- possibly from some kind of short circuit or internal feedback in the brain. That is a much higher frequency, and is the one I have. A sound machine does not cover it.

At least you have a solution for sleeping. But the damage had been done when you used the 50 watt amp.

I agree with you that in both our cases, protection from further damage is very important by using the proper earplugs. I also avoid loud places unless I'm prepared with earplugs.

Thanks for your input on this. Your experience is worthwhile for others to understand how easy it is to damage our hearing.

Madoshi from Belgium on September 27, 2012:

Great hub. I actually have two tinnitus frequencies in my right ear. Strangely my left ear is completely fine. A high beep tone from going to a party without earbuds (which I remember deciding not to bring with ...). I also have like a morse-code windy sound is what I would describe it like, I got it from rocking out with my band using a 50watt guitar tube amp. It's super loud. Also my drummer pretty much smashes his drums like Dave Grohl. I got some custom made earplugs now but it's probably a bit too late, I never leave to events without them though! I've been listening to sleeping music at night ever since, I can still hear it but it's not as noticable. The sleeping music I listen to varies from sounds from the ocean, the rainforest, wind to bizarre psychedelic indian music ;) Anyway, do yourself a favour and get custom made earplugs if you haven't already. I'd choose losing 200$ over endless beeping sounds any day.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 24, 2012:

Melovy, Thanks for bringing to my attention that there are medical supporters of the feedback and crosstalk idea. I just did a search and found a number of sites discussing it, as well as one "gov" site that may have more unbiased opinions. I didn't read this yet but I'll have to follow up with it. But first I'm going to check out your hub you mentioned. Thanks for your comment and for your useful additions to this discussion.

Yvonne Spence from UK on September 23, 2012:

This is a very thorough hub. The way tinnitus in dealt with medically in the USA seems quite different to how it is in the UK. In some ways we have less choice, but on the other hand if we go to NHS specialists they do have to be knowledgeable about the subject. I was referred by ENT for an MRI scan because of pulsatile tinnitus, and nothing showed up. I guess because of that I am low priority because I've been waiting about 6 months to visit a tinnitus clinic.

Like you I found the white noise didn't help, and like you I also find that getting absorbed in something else helps, as has finding ways to cope better with stress.

I'm pretty sure your theory about tinnitus being feedback or crosstalk in the brain actually has now got medical supporters. I read something about this recently, but can't remember what it was. I also read last week that the belief it's caused by irreparable damage to the the tiny hairs in the ears is wrong because these regrow.

I still hold out hope of a cure, at the same time as not letting it rule my life.

This is a very useful hub and it was interesting to read about your visits to various doctors. Thanks for reading my hub. (If you're interested, I also have a story on HP where the main character has tinnitus: New Year's Day.)

Annette Smith from Ocala, Florida on September 22, 2012:

My husband has this problem. Like you, he tries to ignore it and has learned to live with it. Soft music or general white noise helps him sleep at night. Great hub, Glenn. Voted up and shared.

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