No one is talking. The TV is off. Your music is on pause. What do you hear?
If you are like 50 million other Americans, you hear noise. Ringing, roaring, pulsing, buzzing, screeching, static, whooshing, or something else that you know the person sitting next to you is not hearing. This is called tinnitus (pronounced ti-NIGHT-us or TINN-a-tus). Some sounds are loud and piercing similar to a piece of metal being sawed by heavy machinery or a hot tea kettle releasing steam. Other sounds are compared to static on a television or a crashing wave that continues to gain strength. Or possibly the sound is most like a persistent insect calling out in the night.
When your world is never totally quiet
The Mayo Clinic defines tinnitus as the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. It isn’t a condition itself. It is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as hearing loss, ear injury, or a circulatory system disorder. Therefore, identifying and understanding the underlying condition is critical. If you are lucky, the solution might be as simple as professional earwax removal or a medication switch. For others, tinnitus becomes a permanent, unwelcome guest — and the road is a trickier one to navigate.
An Akoio member’s story about tinnitus
Akoio encourages members to share their hearing story, so that others with similar experiences can find comfort in knowing they aren’t alone. A recently shared hearing story illustrates the challenges of living with tinnitus.
“Around 25, I began experiencing ear pain and hearing loss. The doctors diagnosed me with a condition called Otosclerosis. One of the first symptoms of hearing loss for people like me is tinnitus,” said Ivanna, who is in her mid-thirties and lives in Texas. “When it first occurred, it caused me anxiety and restless sleep. I decided to pursue left ear surgery to improve my hearing and tinnitus, but unfortunately, it left me with nerve damage, which worsened my tinnitus.”
Otosclerosis, hearing loss, and tinnitus
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), Otosclerosis affects more than three million Americans. It is a form of conductive hearing loss caused by abnormal bone growth in the middle ear. The main symptoms are hearing loss, tinnitus, and dizziness. According to HealthyHearing.com, some known risk factors of otosclerosis include genetics, pregnancy, race, gender, and age. An audiogram and CT scan can diagnose this condition.
Ivanna explains how tinnitus affects her daily life. “With my tinnitus, I experience constant and extreme buzzing and ringing in my ears. Sometimes it is stabbing sounds. It almost feels like a part of my brain is wide open. Nighttime tinnitus symptoms (and other stress factors) cause me to clench my teeth. From this, I’ve been diagnosed with TMJ and neck tension,” she adds. “Over time you accept your ‘new normal’ and realize the noises in your ears won’t go away.”
The impact that tinnitus has on the human spirit is significant. For many, tinnitus causes stress, depression, anxiety, and mood swings. It can disturb sleep, derail concentration, and even trigger headaches and other types of pain. Ivanna is honest about how she feels. “I wish I didn’t have tinnitus. People who don’t are blessed. Mine never stops. The only time I am relieved is when I sleep.”
But she quickly points out that accepting the reality of tinnitus doesn’t mean accepting the status quo. “Recently, I underwent a second surgery to improve my otosclerosis. Thankfully, the operation was a success! I’m not as reliant on my hearing aids and my tinnitus has improved. Also, I’ve learned that exercise lessens my tinnitus symptoms. I like to ride my bike and walk. For prevention, I make sure to protect myself from harmful noise levels. If I attend a concert or place with very loud noises, I wear earplugs. Additionally, I’ve noticed that high levels of stress make my tinnitus symptoms worse, so I know to keep an eye on that!”
Treatment options for tinnitus
Ivanna’s experience with tinnitus is her own. Each person experiencing these unwanted sounds will take their own journey, alongside their physician or audiologist, to determine the best course of action.
The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) is an authority on the condition. So, they built a helpful “road map” for tinnitus sufferers. It’s important to seek professional help from your primary care provider or audiologist first. The “Managing Your Tinnitus” section on the ATA website is a valuable educational resource to help you formulate questions ahead of your appointment. An in-person or virtual support network like those facilitated through ATA or at Akoio.com may help reduce stress because you’ll know you are not alone and you can learn from the experience of others.
The ATA notes that tinnitus sufferers may find relief by using hearing aids to help amplify external sounds, prescription medications to treat anxiety and/or depression, or even by enhancing overall wellness through diet, exercise and stress reduction. Furthermore, sound therapies and behavioral therapies can help. In addition, vitamins, herbal supplements, acupuncture, and hypnosis are well-known alternative treatments.
Akoio’s recent blog, “There’s a hearing app for that — more apps focused on hearing wellness”, featured a few hearing apps designed to help with tinnitus by managing sound and promoting better sleep.
Mind over matter – living your best life with tinnitus
The ATA’s roadmap suggests that no one needs to accept a “learn to live with it” diagnosis. And Ivanna couldn’t agree more. It requires mental strength and determination, but Ivanna’s daily struggles don’t stop her from living. “I hope that there will be a cure one day. But for now,” she concludes, “my motivation is my family and my desire to make the most out of every moment.”
Well done, Ivanna. That’s how you conquer life!
Find support with others who care about hearing wellness
Just remember, whether you live with a hearing loss or help someone with hearing loss, you are not alone in your quest to conquer life. We encourage you to join Akoio today (it’s free) and share your hearing story. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, too!