Do you hear that? I often ask my family that question. Sometimes I can't tell if the noise I am hearing is my tinnitus or if the sound is actually there. Usually, it is all in my head. Typically, I know this, to be honest, but I ask anyway, just in case.
I have a 40-50% hearing loss in both of my ears, but only mild tinnitus. I am grateful for that. Sometimes I feel that the tinnitus is worse than the hearing loss! Unexplained sounds buzzing and whistling in your head can make you question your sanity. And give you the worst headache known to man. The lack of sound seems almost a relief in retrospect.
Thus far, I have experienced two types of tinnitus. The first has been occurring on and off for several years and is not that troublesome. I am not sure what the trigger is, or even if there is a trigger, but all of a sudden, I will hear a sound like a fluorescent light was just turned on, followed by a high-pitched beeeeeeeep that lasts for 30-60 seconds. It will often start softly, build to a crescendo, and then taper off, like someone has turned the fluorescent light back off. It happens in noise and in silence. It comes and it goes, maybe once or twice a week. Strange, but not bad.
But recently, a new type of tinnitus has started, and this one is more debilitating. I'm not sure if there is a specific trigger, but it seems to happen more often after I am exposed to rhythmic loud noises (like a bathroom fan) or to bright lights. It starts suddenly, is much louder than my friend the fluorescent light, and can continue for an hour or more. It is exhausting. I cannot think. I can't hear what people are saying to me over the ringing. I want to lie down, but sometimes that is not possible. I work to focus on the real sounds around me and carry on.
The best way to counteract my tinnitus that I have found is to watch TV or to play music softly in the background. Any sort of white background noise will do. It needs to be just loud enough to cover up the ringing, but quiet enough so it does not drown out the real sounds around me. Distracting myself can also help - things like reading an engrossing book, or working on my blog. Tricking myself into thinking about something else can make the sound drift into the background and become less consuming. Sometimes the ringing will even go away without my noticing specifically that it ends.
Does my worsening tinnitus mean my hearing is getting worse? My recent audiogram says otherwise, but I still worry. Will my tinnitus take another turn for the worse? I hope not. These are worries that I have, but I cannot spend time on them. I can only focus on living each day the best that I can.
Readers, what strategies do you have for living with tinnitus?
This post first appeared on Living With Hearing Loss.