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Patient perspectives: Can anyone else hear that ringing?

Like many of us these days, I’d describe my life as loud, hectic and a bit of a blur. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, but fast paced. I don’t often have time to really relax or just do nothing - to not be distracted by the TV or my phone. So when I do, I should be treasuring those moments of peace and quiet. But I don’t. In fact, I actively avoid them. Not because I don’t long to unwind and enjoy the peace of mind silence can bring. But because my “silence” is filled with a loud, irritating ringing thanks to my trusty tinnitus which has been with me for the last 15 years.

How would I describe tinnitus to those who don’t suffer with it, or know what it is? Well, for me, it’s a relentless ringing that makes quiet surroundings feel like anything ranging from unenjoyable to unbearable. But that’s just me. It can manifest in a number of different ways and with varying impact for different people. There’s more information on what tinnitus is in a previous blog here.

You might be thinking that ringing in your ears must be annoying, but eventually you’d just get used to it, right? And I’d forgive you for thinking that, because that’s exactly what I thought when I first started to notice my tinnitus sticking around for longer than a day or two after going to a bar or a club. I’d batt it off as the aftermath of a good night out. And to be honest, throughout my late teens and early 20s, I did kind of just accept it. Maybe it was because I was out in bars or clubs regularly, so just associated it with the consequences of being young and having fun. Or maybe it was because I was young and ignorant to the fact that it could be a lasting issue. Either way, looking back I was aware of it, but I can’t say it bothered me too much. And I certainly didn’t do a thing to try and understand why I had tinnitus or prevent it from getting worse.

So it didn’t surprise me to learn that 53.4% of people aged 18 to 24 had experienced tinnitus, and as many as 40% of them are unaware that being exposed to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus. It describes me at that age perfectly.

Now though, a decade after university and almost as many years’ after I’d spend most weekends in bars and clubs, it really does bother me. Just to give you an idea of how tinnitus can impact your life, let me explain how it effects mine…

Daily tinnitus tribulations

Trying to get to sleep is an internal battle of needing quiet to get to sleep, but not wanting to be able to notice the ringing in my head, so needing noise to block it out. I mean, how is that resolved? Current sound therapy, which is essentially a range of everyday natural sounds designed to distract you from your tinnitus, is just as irritating to me as my tinnitus. Realistically, there’s only so much rustling leaves and rain drops one person can take. My only solution to this at the moment is to tire myself out during the day with early starts and intense exercise, and to tire my eyes out at night by reading. Plus side, my fitness is probably the best it’s ever been, and I get through loads of good books!

Here’s something my husband can’t work out. When he’s watching something on TV and I’m trying to get to sleep, I need him to turn the volume down low otherwise it irritates me. But if I want to watch something on TV, the volume needs to be higher than he’d like so that I can hear it clearly above my tinnitus. He calls it selective hearing.

Then there’s what happens when I hear sudden loud sounds. It can be something as simple as the wind causing a door to slam, someone accidentally dropping something, or a car backfiring. Whatever it is, the sudden loud sound will cause a kind of pop in my ears. It’s not painful, but it can be startling and again, annoying!

Finally… pregnancy. One day I noticed that my tinnitus had really upped its game. The ringing was louder and even more relentless than ever before. And I couldn’t associate it to anything in particular. Once I found out I was pregnant, I could easily look back and connect the timings. When I spoke to a doctor about it, they laughed it off and rolled their eyes at “those pesky hormones”. If only I could do the same. Three months in and it’s only getting worse.

What I wish I’d known about tinnitus

My first memory of experiencing ringing in my ears was following nights’ out at university. I didn’t know what tinnitus was, I just thought it was part of my hangover that would go. Had I have recognised the ringing as a symptom of tinnitus, something that could affect me and my hearing for the rest of my life, I like to think that I’d have been more careful to protect my ears in loud environments. That said, for me to take notice and to take action, information and advice around tinnitus would have had to have been presented to me in an easy and relatable way. Afterall, my main priority back then was partying and studying, not my health.

Getting young people today to want to understand what tinnitus is, what causes it and what can prevent it, won’t be an easy task. But it’s the task that the 1mLives team is taking on, so watch this space!

This blog was originally posted here: https://www.1m-lives.com/post/can-anyone-else-hear-that-ringing-the-story-of-my-tinnitus

13th May 2020

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