Tinnitus Sufferers Experience With Ringing in the Ears
My tinnitus started in 2005, and at first, I could not deal with it. I thought to myself, "How can I go on with this constant ringing?"
When I first realized that I no longer had any quiet times, it freaked me out, and I couldn't imagine how I could live with it.
This article is an essay of my experience with doctors, information I learned from my research, and a review of how I'm dealing with it now. Feel free to skip to the sections that interest you.
- My Tinnitus Is an 8 kHz Whistle
- Dealing with Doctors
- How I Learned to Live with My Tinnitus
- How to Avoid Further Ear Damage
- A Couple of Theories
- Is Tinnitus Triggered by Something Else?
- Can Tinnitus Be Caused By Feedback or Crosstalk in the Brain?
- Types of Tinnitus
- Objective and Subjective Tinnitus
- Pulsatile Tinnitus
- Somatic Tinnitus
- My Experience with Doctors
- My ENT Doctor Did an Incorrect CT Scan
- ENT Doctor Didn't Understand Subjective vs. Objective Tinnitus
- Tinnitus Persists After Surgeon Severs Auditory Nerve
- Are Doctors Willing to Learn From Patients?
- My Tinnitus Survey of Possible Related Causes
My Tinnitus Is an 8 kHz Whistle
Tinnitus is mainly known as a ringing in the ears. Some people experience other sounds, such as 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 realized it was matching my tinnitus. I couldn't tell if the 8 kHz test tone was on of off because my tinnitus 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 simply the fact that my tinnitus 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.
Dealing with Doctors
I went to a lot of doctors when my tinnitus first started bothering me in 2005. They all said they can 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.
Little is known about tinnitus. Many doctors claim to understand it, and in my experience they just end up wasting everyone's time and money.
Although this may not be true for all doctors, I have found a pattern among those who I had seen for my condition. This is not beneficial to patients suffering from tinnitus and it just makes things more frustrating.
I learned that it's important to do your due diligence with finding a doctor who understands tinnitus. I made the mistake of trusting that my primary physician is sending me to helpful doctors. He didn't know anything about tinnitus himself, so how could he choose the right specialist?
I'll talk more about my experience with doctors later in this article.
How I Learned to Live with My Tinnitus
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 there was a common thread between what I ate and the loudness of my tinnitus. This was to determine if it might be due to a food allergy. Every time I thought I found something, it failed the test at another time. My findings were always inconsistent.
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 found that focusing my mind on anything helps me live with the tinnitus. It really does not bother me anymore, 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.
I think it probably made me even more creative because I keep myself occupied mentally in order to focus 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 will 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 were ever discovered, the American Tinnitus Association (ATA)2 would announce it.
How to Avoid Further Ear Damage
Ever since my tinnitus began, loud noises create pain. For that reason I can’t deal with concerts anymore. The music is played way too loud.
Feeling pain is an indication that more damage is being done. It's very important to protect yourself from loud sounds, especially if they create pain. When an ambulance or firetruck goes by with the sirens blasting, I need to cover my ears.
Some occasions just can’t be avoided, so when I know I’m going to be attending an activity where the music is played very loud, or when there will be other loud noises, I make sure to bring ear plugs with me.
A Couple of Theories
Is Tinnitus Triggered by Something Else?
I'm wondering if it's possible that tinnitus is caused by a combination of ailments where one thing triggers another. That is, where tinnitus is caused by some kind of interaction.
Don't always trust what doctors tell you. Give yourself credit for knowing better about your own body and try to find the right doctor to research the problem in the proper way. 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, try to discuss it with your doctor. If he or she doesn't want to listen, quickly search for another doctor. I'm personally frustrated with the know-it-all doctors who claim they understand the condition but can't ever do anything about it and don't want to entertain useful ideas.
Can Tinnitus Be Caused By Feedback or Crosstalk in the Brain?
With my knowledge of electronics, I have an idea that my tinnitus may be due to some kind of short circuit in my brain.
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 my tinnitus is similar to that.
I wonder if there could be some sort of connection with nerves causing crosstalk with the eighth cranial nerve. This nerve carries the signals from the cochlea of the inner ear to the brain. It’s also known as the acoustic, or auditory, nerve.
I'll tell you why I'm thinking 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 who would have a desire to research it further. With some Google research, I found 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
Objective and Subjective Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus. One that's a result of some movement or vibration in the skull, and another that's all in the head (created by the brain or nerve impulses).
- Objective Tinnitus: Your doctor can actually hear objective tinnitus. During examination he or she places a small microphone in each ear to try to pick up the sounds you are hearing. This is a rare form of tinnitus. It can be caused by blood vessels, muscle contractions, or other noise producing ailments.
- Subjective Tinnitus: Only you can hear this. This is 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.
I don't have this one, but it is a rhythmic pulsing—usually in sync with the heartbeat.
If you have this type of tinnitus, you should get yourself 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.
Somatic tinnitus4 is a type of tinnitus that is physically created within the head or neck. It's not the standard type of tinnitus imagined in the brain. This covers a wide range of possibilities.
Physical structures outside the ear can cause somatic tinnitus. This 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 somatic tinnitus.
My Experience with Doctors
My ENT Doctor Did an Incorrect CT Scan
One 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 and in dismay he yelled, "That's the problem with patients knowing too much!"
A good doctor should not feel threatened when asked 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 as 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.
ENT Doctor Didn't Understand Subjective vs. Objective Tinnitus
I did my research, so I knew more than one of the ENT doctors my primary physician had recommended.
He gave me a hearing test. I had ear buds in my ears and I had to lift a finger to indicate when I heard a sound.
I was wondering if he was able to determine if my Tinnitus was a sound he could hear, or if it was only in my own mind. So after the test I asked him if my tinnitus was subjective or objective. (I described Subjective and Objective Tinnitus above).
He didn't understand my question. I then asked him if the ear buds had microphones so that he can determine that. He got even more confused!
He was an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor. But he knew nothing about tinnitus. I found out later that my tinnitus is subjective—only I could hear it.
Tinnitus Persists After Surgeon Severs Auditory Nerve
I used to attend a local Tinnitus Support group run by the American Tinnitus Association when my tinnitus first began. Everyone shared their experiences with the group.
One member told us about her experience with a doctor who wanted to do surgery to fix her tinnitus. She only had it in one ear. So her doctor said he can sever the auditory nerve to terminate the tinnitus in that ear. He reasoned that she would still have the other good ear anyway.
Her tinnitus was so devastating to her that she went ahead with the surgery. Afterwards, she was deaf on the operated ear, as expected—but she still heard the tinnitus!
Are Doctors Willing to Learn From Patients?
It would be nice if I could discuss some of my own theories with an ENT doctor. However, they seem to get frightened when I offer some kind of idea 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 obviously more interested in making money than finding a cure.
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 good doctor would have an interest in this. After all, they are all clueless at the present. Wouldn't they want to be the first to discover the answers?
That kind of doctor must be out there, working on this—somewhere.
I wrote this article in an effort to offer something of value to my fellow tinnitus sufferers. However, this is not intended to provide any medical advice.
© 2012 Glenn Stok