Ringing in the Ears: What a Scream

Last week was Tinnitus Awareness Week and the SayWhatClub shared many informative articles on the subject on our Facebook page, where you can scroll back through the posts to find them.  


Tinnitus or ringing in the ears is the experience of persistent sound.  It can be in one or both ears or inside the head, in the absence of an external source. A more technical description defines tinnitus as a sensory–perceptual disorder associated with negative affect and high impact on well-being and behavior.

  • Tinnitus comes from the Latin word tinnire meaning “to ring”
  • Tinnitus has two acceptable pronunciations—tih-NIGHT-us or TIN-ih-tus
  • 14% of adults experience chronic tinnitus
  • Hearing loss is the biggest risk factor
  • Tinnitus is number one disability for Veterans, according to
  • Tinnitus is often accompanied by fatigue, stress, sleep problems, and anxiety
  • There is currently no cure for tinnitus, though there are various treatment options available to manage
  • Researchers believe the key to finding a cure for Tinnitus is repairing the brain’s “circuit breakers,” restoring the brain’s central gatekeeping system for control of perceptual sensations.


Most everyone experiences ringing in their ears when they’re exposed to loud noise, such as at a rock concert. If they are lucky the tinnitus goes away and no harm done. But, for many the ringing doesn’t go away. Chronic tinnitus can be caused not only by exposure to loud noise or hearing loss, but also by ototoxic drugs/medications, ear or head trauma, and Meniere’s or other disease.Most who live with tinnitus can confirm that all of the ringing, hissing, buzzing, humming, whistling, swooshing, roaring, clicking, squealing, chirping, screeching, pulsing, and trilling going on inside their head can be downright maddening!

I can’t remember a time without noise in my head, but that’s likely due to my hearing loss beginning in early childhood. As I lost more and more hearing, my tinnitus became more severe and harder to ignore and required more effort to manage.

hearing is a brain function

The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

Even before I was diagnosed with hearing loss I knew about tinnitus. My deaf grandmother complained of it, and in her later years she claimed to often hear music that wasn’t there. Musical hallucination, written about by Oliver Sacks in Musicophelia: Tales of Music and the Brain is considered a more complex form of tinnitus.

Neuron in tissue culture

Studies have found that tinnitus and musical hallucination share a common source and neural substrate in the brain. I’ve often thought that it is possible for the two to combine as a way for the brain to make sense of the sounds it hears inside your head—hearing is actually a brain function; your ear merely transmits and transduces sound to the brain.

My tinnitus sometimes falls in the frequency of talk radio.  Occasionally, I actually hear a radio announcer talking inside my head for days at a time. This tends to be the most annoying version of my tinnitus.  I am thankful it doesn’t happen as frequently as the static I hear most of the time.

If you suffer from ringing in the ears or tinnitus, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to find othersSayWhatClub is a great peer-to-peer supportto share with who will understand how tinnitus impacts your life. Even if you find effective treatment and management there’s nothing more helpful than talking about your issues and comparing notes with others who ‘get it’.

Links to more information:

The Atlantic The Sound That Comes From Nowhere

Trends in Neurosciences An Integrative Tinnitus Model Based on Sensory Precision

Trends in Neurosciences Frontostriatal Gating of Tinnitus and Chronic Pain

Georgetown University Neuroscientists Uncover Brain Abnormalties Responsible for Tinnitus and Chronic Pain

Sciend Direct Tinnitus and musical hallucinosis: The same but more

10 Practical Tips for Tinnitus

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



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, so I was 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. Also, there are 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.  Sometimes, loud noise can make tinnitus worse, so keep it soft. 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.



What is tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of external stimuli,meaning a person affected by tinnitus hears sounds no one else does. The sounds vary greatly from; whistling, hissing, ringing, buzzing and even a roaring. It can be cicadas, crickets, jet engines, sirens, drums or even like a distant radio playing. Tinnitus can come and go or be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For a peek at what tinnitus sounds like, click on this link. Those who have tinnitus might not hear the computer sounds but those who have good hearing will be surprised by the intensity of it.

Millions of people are affected by tinnitus and there is no known cure. Some of the causes of tinnitus are: noise induced (many of our veterans, concerts and MP3 players with earbuds), conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, ototoxic drugs, Meniere’s disease, auto immune diseases, TMJ, head injuries, and more. Doctors don’t know what to do and too often tell those seeking help, “There’s nothing we can do about it. Learn to live with it,” and offer no suggestions.

Live with it? Live with it how?

Tinnitus is all invasive; a constant and unwanted companion. There are sleepless nights with no peace and long days. Not even exhaustion assures a good night sleep the following nights. Too many nights of no sleep leaves a person addled, irritated and desperate. Depression is not uncommon. (Antidepressants can help.) So how to live with tinnitus?


Twenty years ago, habituate was the keyword; to change the behavior towards tinnitus… not an easy task and it takes time. In the meantime, how can a person get some sleep with all that racket inside their head? Soft music helps a lot. Turning on a fan or a water feature can lessen the impact of tinnitus also. Peaceful nights are best but having some noise helps override the tinnitus. The more pleasant the noise, the easier it is to focus on it than the ringing.

Fortunately there are more treatments available today than ever.

  • Tinnitus specialists are scattered over the United States, the American Tinnitus Association has a list here.
  • Diet can agitate tinnitus so try avoiding caffeine, sugar, salt and alcohol. Smoking could have something to do with it as well as medications (link to ototoxic medications at bottom).
  • Becoming over tired can make tinnitus worse. To avoid screaming tinnitus, make sure you get plenty of rest.
  • There are tinnitus applications for smart phones, some are free and others have a small cost. Just to name a few: Sleep Stream 2, Tinnitus Relief, Tinnitus Pro and Simply Noise. My personal favorite is Sleep Stream 2, I use this program for stress relief as well as tinnitus.
  • Hearing aids help drown out tinnitus. Other experimental therapies out there for tinnitus are: biofeedback, cognitive therapy, sound therapy and TMJ treatment.

For 25 years now, I’ve dealt with tinnitus. I hear cicadas, crickets and a high pitched squeal all the time. Other sounds pop in now and then like a bird chirping and a low tone. After a few years, I made friends with my tinnitus as crazy as it sounds. I hear it always but it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Tinnitus may feel like the end of the world but don’t give up. With time, it gets easier to handle. Be a surviver.

For those who have tinnitus, how have you dealt with it?


A lot of this information comes from a class I took at the Sanderson Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing featuring Jodi Goodenough. She has a Facebook group.

American Tinnitus Association

A list of Ototoxic drugs

Some Famous People With Tinnitus