Tinnitus Awareness Week: My Story So Far #TAW2016

The British Tinnitus Association is holding their 10th annual Tinnitus Awareness Week. What better time for me to have a good moan share my tinnitus story with you. I’d love to hear your experiences too. How do you cope? Let me know in the comments section below.

What’s that sound?

I’d just settled down in my cosy new bed, in my peaceful new home in a lovely quiet area. A place that seemed a million miles away from the noisy road-side flat I’d just moved from. After all of the heavy lifting I’d done that week I should of been out like a light. But I wasn’t. Something was getting between me and my much anticipated snooze-fest: An irritating buzzing noise, like that sound you hear when you’re near a faulty plug socket. “Oh no!” I though to myself, “the electrics must be faulty”.

The following day I launched a full scale mission to hunt down the buzz. “Can you hear it?” I asked my partner. He couldn’t. I looked everywhere around the new house. I even stood underneath the old Sky dish which had been left behind to see if that was somehow creating the noise, but alas, I couldn’t find the source. I decided to deal with it for the time being. I was going away on holiday soon. This could wait until I got back.

My right ear

Fast-forward a few days and I was in Amsterdam, about to bed down after a long day of walking the city streets. My partner turned over to sleep, I switched off the light and began my nightly inner chatter, telling myself to ignore the buzzing sound, and that’s when it hit me: “That noise! I can still hear it!”. It had been inside my head the whole time! As I listened closer the panic in me grew. Now that I knew it was in my own head it seemed to be louder than ever, and really annoying. I told myself the doctors would fix it when I got home. Only I didn’t end up going to see a doctor for another 12 months. When it comes to my health though I’m incredibly stubborn. I’ll only go to the Doctor when I have no other option. So naturally, I put it off for a long time.

When I finally spoke to a GP about it she quickly diagnosed it as tinnitus and informed me that it was long term condition, possibly permanent. I couldn’t believe it. “So there’s nothing that will get rid of this?” I asked. “I’m afraid not” she replied. I almost started crying. The idea that I was going to have to live with this sound in my ear forever was overwhelming.

Thankfully I’ve since adopted coping mechanisms to stop myself going insane. If you are feeling stressed by tinnitus, ask your GP to refer you to a therapist who can help you.

My left ear

It was New Years Eve 2014 and I was in Cardiff city centre to celebrate. A DJ perched on top of the city hall was blasting music at an uncomfortable level. I’d forgotten to bring my earplugs out with me so resorted to stuffing loo roll in my right ear (classy!) to minimise the damage. In an attempt to communicate over the crazy-loud music, my Sister shouted in my left ear. Sure enough, when I got home there was a new sound in my head. This was more of a continuous ringing. No where near as annoying as the one’s in my right ear. This was more like the kind you hear after a loud concert.

What caused my tinnitus?

We know what caused my left ear to start ringing: Loud noise. Fortunately this type of tinnitus can be avoided. Keep a pair of live music earplugs in your bag or wear them under your over-ear headphones. You never know when things might get noisy. I use Alpine Music Safe Pro Ear Plugs. This type of earplug is designed to allow you to hear music whilst cutting out the harsh tones that damage hearing. This pair comes with 3 sets of interchangeable filters; different strengths for different volumes of music. I always keep the strongest filter in mine.

My right ear is a little more complicated though. The ringing seemed to come out of nowhere. My GP told me I have tinnitus because of the many loud gigs I’d attended in the past. My dentist at the time suspected it was a result of my TMJ disorder: A dysfunction of the jaw joint that causes all kinds of problems including pain, facial swelling, popping and clunking of the jaw, jaw lock and of course, tinnitus. I’d just been through a stressful period and had started grinding my teeth in my sleep. I believe the combination of stress and pre-existing TMJ disorder is what brought on the tinnitus and it’s accompanying symptoms.

Tinnitus is more than just ringing

Tinnitus doesn’t seem like a big deal to those who don’t have it, and why would it? The effects of tinnitus are invisible. The ringing in your ears after an amazing gig is even sometimes felt with pride, like a battle scar; “The gig was amazing. My ears have been ringing all day!”. But long-term tinnitus is much more than a sound in your ear. It can come in many forms. Mine is multi-tonal and alternates every few seconds, like an out of tune, muffled fire engine *weeee-yoooo-weeee-yooooo*. Over the top of that I have a high pitched static sound.

For many sufferers tinnitus comes with other symptoms. For example, my right ear is now hyper sensitive to noise. Some noises even hurt (plates chinking, a sudden sneeze, the doorbell. Ouch!). Sensitivity to sound has increased my anxiety and can make me irritable and snappy if I don’t keep tabs on my stress levels.

My worst symptom though has to be the thumping. Every few weeks I’ll experience days of rapid thumping (not my heart beat or jaw) that only occurs around high pitched noises; ie. plastic bags being crumpled. People reading newspapers on trains. My partner typing on his PC. Crisp packets. Not only can I hear the thumping, but I can feel a fluttering in my ear. It’s really distracting, to the point trying to focus on anything is near impossible. The only way to cope is to avoid the sounds altogether. I’ve spoken to my GP about it, I’ve been examined by several Doctors, I’ve even had a CT scan and an MRI, but so far I’ve had no answers. It doesn’t help that the NHS is under so much strain. I waited 5 months to see the ENT department, and 11 months for my MRI, but that’s another post altogether.

What now?

It’s taken a few years but I think I’m finally able to ignore my tinnitus. Through a combination of meditation and white noise, I’m buzz-free 80% of the time. It’s only during times of stress that the noise gets louder.

I’m not hopeful that the hearing sensitivity and thumping will ever stop, but as long as I have ear plugs I’ll be able to cope.

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*Title image via Flickr | Stròlic Furlàn