When your low pitch tinnitus finally stops and you only have to deal with your high pitch tinnitus.
I’ve been living with tinnitus (chronic ringing noise in ears) for at least a year. I want to talk a little about my experience and what I’ve learned because I knew nothing about tinnitus before and suspect many people might not either. There may even be some people who have never realised they have it.
First, tinnitus is not a disease. It’s the symptom or expression of something else that is wrong with the auditory system, which includes your outer ear (outside the eardrum), middle ear, inner ear and the auditory nerve connecting the ear to the brain. Tinnitus is often caused by noise exposure, but there are many other causes. In worst cases, it can be caused by a heart/blood disease or a brain tumour. If you are experiencing tinnitus, I’d recommend at minimum raising it with your general practitioner.
I first noticed tinnitus in my left ear around a year ago. It manifested as a loud, rushing, pulsing noise in my left ear. It was more noticeable when my surroundings were quiet, like when I was trying to sleep. At first I thought it might be because I’d recently moved or was stressed, but when it didn’t let up after a few weeks I visited the GP. They said it might be due to ear wax build up and suggested I get a dewaxing liquid to drip into my ear. This would supposedly soften up the wax and help it drip out.
A few weeks later I was having the same issue so I went back. They cleaned out my ears with a water pump. A few weeks later it was still there, but I noticed a different ringing. I’d been concentrating on my hearing more than I usually do, and I noticed a high pitch ringing. It was fairly quiet, but once I noticed it, it was hard to ignore. I have no idea how long it had been there. Was it recent, or had I just been tuning it out? This was in addition to the louder, lower pitch ringing, but it was in both ears rather than just the left. Again, it was barely noticeable if at all when other noise was present, but was annoyingly loud when I was sleeping.
I remember asking my family to be quiet for a minute and listen. “Can you hear a high pitch ringing? No? Just me? Cool.”
My GP explained that we’ve ruled out the outer ear, but the problem may be with the middle or inner ear. They gave me a nasal spray to ‘clear out the middle ear’ (I paraphrase, I wasn’t sure on the science here). This didn’t help. My GP then referred me to an ear specialist who administered some hearing tests and ordered an MRI to look for brain tumours or other inner ear/brain issues. My hearing was fine (minus the ringing) and the MRI was clear. This was a pretty big sigh of relief, but didn’t offer an answer or a solution.
I’ve gotten better at adapting to the reality of chronic tinnitus. For a long time it affected my sleep, but I now have a routine of having some white noise in the room (with my dehumidifier or fan) or playing white noise through headphones or speakers to drown out the ringing. As long as I have one of these, my sleep is fine.
Recently, the lower pitch ringing seems to have stopped. I don’t know why but I hope it stays that way. I can only hope the other ringing stops eventually too, but for many people tinnitus is a chronic issue they deal with for their whole lives.
As for what caused it, I’m not sure. If I had to guess based on what I know now, the most likely candidate would be noise-induced hearing damage. From around the age of 18 to 22, I went clubbing a lot. Like 1 to 3 times a week a lot. I listened to a lot of loud music. At the time and after I never noticed any issues with hearing loss or tinnitus. I later counted myself as lucky. Could this be delayed onset of this exposure?
Another possible explanation is a game I play and love, Escape From Tarkov. This is a survival shooter with loud gunfights. I saw a post on Reddit several months ago which I thought was very well said. To paraphrase:
“Tarkov tricks you into having your volume turned up way too loud. Because most of a game will consist of you sneaking around trying to listen out for footsteps of enemies nearby, you will be inclined to turn your volume up. The sooner you hear your opponent, the more likely you are to win. But these periods of quiet are followed by explosively loud gunfights with automatic weapons firing at close range. The game prides itself on realism, which is great, but it means firearms are very loud relative to other sounds (more so than other shooter games).”
So it may be that my playing Tarkov (I started around 2 years ago) has in some way lead to my tinnitus. I’ve since been more careful about keeping the volume at a more reasonable level, even if it affects my gameplay.
There has been some talk about the possibility of being able to manage tinnitus with meditation/mindfulness. I’ve tried this a little with no success, but remain hopeful about one day being able to trick myself into enjoying the sound, or ignoring it, or something similar.
Finally, there are researchers looking at tinnitus and thinking about how to mitigate the symptoms. Stay tuned.