By Chelle Wyatt
Tinnitus is on my mind today and that’s because I’m off the grid, in the middle of nowhere at my parents house. How quiet is it out here? Many years ago after they finished building their house I came to visit. We were on the porch, everyone talking and I kept hearing a noise. It was indescribable and it drove me nuts not knowing what it was. I stopped the conversation finally to ask “What is that?” And of course everything sounded normal to them so it took a bit to pin down the noise I wanted. “There! That noise,” I yelled when I heard it again. My mom said, “You mean hummingbirds?” I was aghast. I could not believe how loud they were. At home I couldn’t hear them due to traffic or city noise so I guess I forgot what they sounded like.
Today it’s early February so isn’t porch time yet. My parents aren’t listening to the radio as they normally would avoiding today’s political environment. None of us watch TV much either so it’s quiet in the house too. I hear my tinnitus all too well. My tinnitus sounds like cicadas, crickets and has a high pitched squeal 24 hours a day , 7 days a week. Luckily I habituated years ago so it’s not driving me crazy but it is noticeable.
Memories of tinnitus are drifting in and out. I remember when tinnitus struck back in 1987 and I was told by the ENT to go home and learn to live with it. He gave me no other suggestions nor information. I couldn’t sleep and I was a zombie during for days at school. Every night I laid awake hating the sudden invasion and wished I could just die. Only with much determination did I make it through that time period and was able to push tinnitus to the side.
I didn’t think too much about my tinnitus for many years, it was there but in the background only. Then working as a hard of hearing assistant, I was asked to edit a tinnitus presentation into a class. I spent weeks organizing the information and researching tinnitus on the internet. I hadn’t heard my tinnitus so well in years! I was so happy when I finished the project.
Once or twice a year I teach the class and it always throws me back to my early days when I suffered from it as I listen to others tell their story. At least there’s more information available today thanks to the internet than what I had in 1987. It’s wonderful of the state of Utah to offer this class to help others. Together we talk about it and I always hope I helped them at least a little bit. Today I thought I’d write up a list of things to help other people as well.
Tinnitus is most vicious at night because the world is quieter. All we want is to sleep and it seems impossible with all that racket in our head. We lay there awake..thinking about it, hating it, crying or pissed off. It’s at the forefront of our thinking and it’s evil.
Here’s some things you can do to help you sleep. The trick is to take your mind away from your tinnitus and place it elsewhere. If you find yourself focussing on your tinnitus, take the focus away to something else.
1) Soft noise. Turn on the fan. Get a fish tank that bubbles. Use soft music or the TV. There’s small water features you can buy to keep on the nightstand. Get some environmental sounds to listen too. (I use an app on my phone called SleepStream 2 and I love it. There is a fee.)
2) Try something visual. I know some people don’t like lights at night so experiment. Try fiberoptic lights or something like a projection of the night sky on the ceiling.
3) Some people claim aromatherapy distracts them from their tinnitus at night. Find a soothing scent.
4) Create a regular bed time habit and make it a comfortable routine. Turn off the TV, read a bit, have a cup of tea. Create a peaceful atmoshphere with light background noise.
5) Find your happy place. Start creating a visual in your mind of your perfect place. Counting your blessings also works, not matter how small it starts, the list will get bigger.
During the day it’s a little easier to ignore tinnitus but in quiet places or at idle times it can sneak up on you. Again, every time you catch yourself thinking about your tinnitus take it away to something else.
1) Mindfulness works. If you’re dusting furniture and the ringing is driving you nuts, focus instead on the dusting-the motion your hand makes, the smell of the furniture polish, the trails you make in the dust as you go.
2) Keep light noise in the background. Don’t make it too loud because sometimes loud noise can make tinnitus work. Use the radio, some music, the TV.
3) Some people started a new hobby when tinnitus struck. I remember a story of guy who took up running to ‘run away’ from his tinnitus. He used it to work through his tinnitus and enjoyed it so much he became a marathon runner. Have you always wanted to paint? Take and art class. Take a dance class or start attending a climbing gym. Having something new to do will give you a new focus.
4) Many hearing aids have a tinnitus program option. Whenit’s quiet at the office, I’ll turn on my tinnitus program and I hear crashing waves in the background. If someone comes in and starts talking to me, the waves fade away and I still hear environmental noise.
5) Here’s your excuse to go get a message. Tense shoulders leads to a tense neck and even a tight scalp. It could be making your tinnitus worse. It won’t take away your tinnitus but maybe you’ll feel more relaxed and able to deal with the tinnitus better.
These are practical tips. I don’t know much about alternative therapies so I won’t get into that. The American Tinnits Association (ATA) which talks about those therapies and you can explore them on your own. The ATA has tons of good information on tinnitus and you can read the latest updates on studies too.
Some people have tinnitus triggers and spikes. Mine is a lack of sleep and it will make my tinnitus scream! I warn those around me it will be a bad hearing day. For other people it’s loud noises, over the counter meds, diet (caffeine, sugar, alcohol, salt) or smoking. None of those things affect me but lack of sleep will. It’s different for everyone.
If you’re feeling suicidal please seek help. I know of someone who was, reached out for help instead and successfully habituated tinnitus.
Feel free to share your tinnitus story in the comments. I’m always looking ways to help people with their tinnitus.