Do you hear what I hear? I hope not.
Did you know my ears ring?
All. Day. Long.
Imagine a tea kettle battling it out with some cicadas. That's what's in my head. 24/7.
I have NO CLUE when it started. When I was taking my intro to audiology class, at age 23, my professor started talking about tinnitus. I went up to him after class and said: "You mean, not everyone hears this all day long?" I had had it so long at that point that it had become my normal. I think that my tinnitus has probably been present since I was a kid. I think it was exacerbated by playing my flute and piccolo very loud in the band with other very loud instruments and from listening to loud music.
When you have constant tinnitus, peace does NOT equal quiet. I hate quiet. Not easy when you're an audiologist and in and out of a sound treated booth all day. Patients ask me occasionally if I like to go in there so I don't have to listen to anything. Never. When I have students test me I sit in the booth and close my eyes and almost disappear into my tinnitus. It is all that there is in those moments. It is this experience that allows me to empathize with my patients who also have tinnitus.
Everyone experiences tinnitus differently. For some it comes and goes; for others, like me, it's ever present. It may be high-pitched, low-pitched, a single tone, multiple sounds, pulse.
What causes tinnitus? Why hasn't anyone found a way to cure it? I don't want to re-write an already amazing article so I will place the link here: Discover Magazine - The Brain: "Ringing in the Ears" Actually Goes Much Deeper Than That
So what do I do about it? Well, I have always just toughed it out. They say that the goal of tinnitus treatment is similar to this: imagine a candle burning in a very dark room. It is all you see. It is so bright. That is me in the test booth. But if you turn the lights on, the candle is there but barely visible. Put the tinnitus in the background.
I can't do that when it's quiet. Ever. It's always at least a dimly lit room and that candle is glowing away. So I compensate. I avoid quiet. I avoid my triggers like caffeine and stress and sodium fatigue and... ok, I don't/can't avoid all those things. Who are we kidding? I am a mom of 2 young kids with her own audiology practice. But I have masking apps on my phone (I like "White Noise" and "ReSound Relief, but there are others). I keep a fan running every night while I sleep. I put music on. I put the TV on. I ask Alexa to "play me some sleep sounds" which usually equals some sort of ocean noise.
In about 2 months I will go through in-depth training on Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. This summer/fall I intend to complete certification from the American Board of Audiology in Tinnitus. 10 years into practice and I am going to begin a new journey. I never thought I should be a "tinnitus audiologist" before. I thought my own experience would dampen my ability to truly help my patients, but instead I have found it to do the opposite. I am not sure what my quality of life would be had I not found ways to cope with this. I am so grateful, and I am ready to help others find a way to turn on their lights.
If you have tinnitus, please know that there is hope for you. You can call us for help at (440) 579-4085, browse our website or contact an audiologist in your area. A great source for tinnitus information is the American Tinnitus Association where there is a wealth of knowledge and resources.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.